Tag Archives: Television

Where should we draw the line between TV and film?

Olive Kitteridge

Last week, I finally caught up with HBO’s celebrated 2014 mini-series Olive Kitteridge. Adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s novel of the same name and told over an expansive four-hour runtime, it’s broken into four parts that align with its somewhat episodic “chapter” structure.

Few people would contest the fact that Olive Kitteridge is a mini-series. In terms of narrative scope and format, it’s perfectly suited to hour-long segments. Yet in the opening credits, it’s labelled as “a film by Lisa Cholodenko”. And that feels valid too. Olive Kitteridge has a cinematic feel to it and Cholodenko, whose past films include The Kids Are All Right and Laurel Canyon, clearly brought a Hollywood pedigree to the project.

So with all of that in mind, I began to wonder, where exactly is the line between television and film?

One simplistic and perhaps obvious answer is, “it doesn’t really matter.” Great art is great art regardless of how or where you consume it. And whether something is distributed as a theatrical film or a television mini-series could very well come down to practical decisions related to its potential marketability on a given platform. When you look at it that way, the division doesn’t feel all that artistically significant.

But still, labelling something as “film” or “television” brings certain consequences. In this supposed golden age of television, the line between the two formats is blurring, but many viewers and critics still hold onto the idea that television is “lesser” than cinema. Calling something a “made for TV movie” still has a somewhat withering connotation, even in an age where it’s not uncommon for A-list Oscar winners like Al Pacino or William Hurt to star in said movies.

Even big-name talent might not get the same respect for their work on TV. Frances McDormand won an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie for her work in Olive Kitteridge, and in my opinion quite deservedly so. We’ll never know if she would have won her second Best Actress Oscar had Olive Kitteridge been eligible for that award (her first being in 1997 for Fargo), but if you were going to introduce McDormand by her credentials, it seems a lot more likely you’d say “Academy Award winner Frances McDormand” rather than “Emmy Award winner Frances McDormand”.

It’s not all bad news for television, though, since the format obviously also affords some artistic freedom that film doesn’t. By having the luxury of taking four hours to track 25 years in its protagonist’s life, Olive Kitteridge obviously has the room to fully develop its characters. Who’s to say that it would have been so effective pared down to a standard “movie” runtime of half the length?

And it’s not as though television is so ghettoized nowadays. Series like Stranger Things or Game of Thrones are arguably bigger cultural phenomenons than almost any recent movie to hit theatres. If the quality is there people will catch on, and with online platforms enabling viewers to “binge watch” hours of content at a time, it seems the tides are turning in favour of longer-format series that fans can get invested in and discuss for longer than a “one and done” standalone movie.

One film that really worked to blur those lines was O.J.: Made in America (which I reviewed here), Ezra Eddelman’s nearly eight-hour documentary about the notorious O.J. Simpson. Documentaries have always lent themselves nicely to episodic, multi-hour miniseries, whether it be Ken Burns’ lengthy PBS examinations of American history or the Netflix sensation Making a Murder. And O.J. did break into five logical and vaguely self-contained parts to air on television or streaming. But those involved with O.J. stayed adamant that it was in fact a feature film, riding that classification all the way to a (well-deserved) Oscar win for Best Documentary. Some quibbled with the idea of O.J. being a movie, but considering it initially screened at film festivals like Sundance and Hot Docs as a single 463-minute unit, it seems illogical to argue that it’s not.

With that example in mind, perhaps the best way to classify whether something is film or television comes down to intent. If the filmmakers envision their work as an eight-hour film, then so be it. There are certainly examples of arthouse and experimental films that run nearly as long or longer, but they’d also never be broken into smaller, more easily digestible segments simply because they lack marketability, regardless of how you dice them up. If we accept those works as “films” at face value, why do we try to “punish” something like O.J. by claiming it’s not a film, simply because a studio or distributor took the opportunity to get the film out to a wider audience by choosing an alternative format for their film?

Since we’re talking about intent, let’s close with some thoughts from one of the filmmakers in question. When asked about Olive Kitteridge’s format, Cholodenko had this to say:

When I saw it back for the first time on a screen, it’s got this really lovely title sequence and says ‘A Film by Lisa Cholodenko’ — and I watched it and I thought, wow does it feel like that? Is that going to be strange?

And then at the end I really felt like, gosh, that really is a film, it was really such a great opportunity to make this four hour film, you know? It does have these chapters but for me it feels very coherent. It’s all in the piece and it hangs together and it is like a film. We shot it like a film, I approached it like a film, I think visually it feels like a film and narratively I thought of it as a film with the whole arc: Where does she go, where does she start, does it have a midpoint? All these things weave together — even though they’re episodes — into a bigger picture.”

Fall 2012 Pilot Review: The Mob Doctor


Premise: Tough-talking surgeon Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) makes enemies wherever she goes. People at work find her domineering. She’s insensitive towards her mother. And, oh yeah – the mob is kind of after her. Specifically, they’re after her brother, whose unspecified dealings have landed the Devlin family in their debt. So, when an enemy of the mob lands himself in Grace’s operating room, they call in a favour. And it’s up to Grace to decide whether or not she wants to take them up on it.

My expectations going in: Low. I’m not a fan of medical dramas (the surgery scenes make me queasy). And while I am a fan of crime dramas when done well, they’re usually pretty hackneyed.

My thoughts: This is a solid if uninspired entry in the network crime drama oeuvre. The problem is that we also have cable shows like Homeland and Breaking Bad that cover similar territory in a much more unique and nuanced way.

Let’s start with the good. Grace is an interesting character. There are layers there that could definitely be developed as the series goes on. And Jordana Spiro is a unique, charismatic actress who’s never really gotten her due, aside from the surprisingly long-lived My Boys. If The Mob Doctor gets the chance to develop, she could definitely go to some interesting places with this character. Even in this pilot, there were some hints of complexity that I wasn’t expecting. None of the other characters feel nearly as well-rounded yet, but I suppose that would come with time.

The writing is decent. It’s nothing great, and there were certainly some clichéd lines of dialogue that wouldn’t fly in a better show. But things moved along at a good pace, and it was all engaging enough. It’s definitely possible that this show pulled out a couple too many stops and surprises (a car chase!) in the first episode. But if they can build on that, it could become a worthy thriller.

It’s also worth noting that this show has a surplus of handsome brunette dudes. One such dude is Zach Gilford. I am a diehard Friday Night Lights fan, so I root for pretty much everyone in that cast to make it in a post-FNL world. And though it is a little strange to see Matt Saracen talking about hymens and strutting around the O.R. in scrubs, Gilford does a nice job playing Grace’s boyfriend. Of course, his character will inevitably find out about her dealings with the mob. And given the morally questionable decision he made in this pilot episode about a patient, I imagine he might be persuaded to come along for the ride. Other handsome brunette dudes in this episode were far less memorable, though I kind of like that the writers only showed us a little bit of Grace’s brother and left us guessing about him.

The Mob Doctor (which has a really stupid name, by the way) was more compelling than I expected. It all feels very competent, and I even felt the suspense that they were going for in certain moments. But pretty much everything about the show, from the acting to the direction, felt just adequate. Not bad, but not great. It even has the standard-issue TV drama score. The pilot occasionally hinted at bigger and better, but ultimately, it just felt like the kind of crime thriller we’ve seen too many times before.

Chances of Survival?: Not great. I give it about ten episodes before it gets cancelled. The public seems to favour star power and/or soapy storylines in their network dramas, and I don’t think this one will keep their interest.

Will I watch again?: Probably not. I enjoyed the pilot well enough, but it’s not really my thing. It seems like it’ll probably maintain a fairly high level of intrigue and suspense, but that it’ll do so in some fairly expected ways.

C+

Fall 2012 Pilot Review: The New Normal


Premise: David (Justin Bartha, The Hangover) and Bryan (Andrew Rannells, Girls) are a 30-something couple seems to have it all – a loving relationship, successful careers, and a nice house. But when the two decide to have a child through a surrogate mother, things begin to get complicated. They face judgement from several people, they confront their own doubts about their fathering abilities, and they must decide who will be the biological father of the child.

My expectations going in: Medium-low. I’m a big fan of Bartha, and I thought Rannells was great as Hannah’s gay ex on Girls, but the ad campaign put me off. Showing them both as pregnant men was kind of silly and lazy, and it seemed like a cheap tactic to appear “zany”. I half-expected one of them to give birth to a hoagie sandwich in the pilot.

My thoughts: It certainly wasn’t a great pilot, but it was a pretty solid start to the show. They did a good job establishing John and David as a loving, likeable couple with little fuss. Both Bartha and Rannells were charming and funny in the pilot, and they were very convincing as a couple. The fashion-savy, sharp-tongued character of Bryan really walks a fine line in terms stereotype, but I think there’s enough shades in the characterization and Rannell’s performance to duck cliché. Bryan is also strong, confident, and funny – and that’s never a bad thing for a television character to be. Bartha, on the other hand plays a bit more of the straight-man (so to speak), and I already really like his matter-of-fact, slightly neurotic gynecologist character a lot.

I also appreciate the show’s relative frankness (considering it’s on a major network) about gay relationships. These guys aren’t Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family. They kiss, they cuddle in bed, and there’s a palpable sexual attraction between them. It doesn’t feel forced, or like it’s there for “shock value”, and it actually adds to the show’s believability.

And I’d be remised if I didn’t say that this episode had some pretty funny moments. Ryan Murphy is one of the creators, and the pilot at times felt reminiscent of Glee’s edgy-ish first season. Ellen Barkin provides a lot of the humour as the bigoted grandmother of the woman who becomes David and Bryan’s surrogate mother. Who wouldn’t want to watch Ellen Barkin deride someone for his “ridiculous Fozzie Bear impression and self-diagnosed narcolepsy”?

However, the pilot definitely had its problems. Tonally, it was a little bit all over the place. It ranged from broad, over-the-top humour at times (not all of which worked), to attempts at more legitimate drama. I like the fact that the show wants to take a somewhat serious approach to exploring these guys’ relationship, and their doubts and insecurities. And I don’t think that part is bad (though the writing could be a bit stronger). I think they just need to find a way to make those dramatic moments feel a bit more believable with the rest of the show.

Also, the show takes a pretty moralistic approach to the whole idea of a gay relationship. In the pilot alone, David and Bryan face several people who look down on them because they’re a same-sex couple. And I don’t mean to minimize that inequality. Many gay people do face judgement on a regular basis, of course. But I am also hoping the show will decrease its focus on that negativity. First of all, it already got repetitive in the pilot, because I feel most humour involving ignorant, closed-minded people can really only strike one note. And secondly, I don’t want their “gayness” to become the characters’ defining trait. If the show wants people to accept that this type of relationship is the standard for the “new normal”, they should probably not have other characters constantly point out how strange and unnatural they think that relationship is. I think as long as the show finds a balance in tone, though, it’ll be fine.

Chances of Survival?: I predict it’ll make it to a second season If NBC is still propping up Whitney and Up All Night, they probably won’t just toss a Ryan Murphy comedy to the side. It’s already got complaints against it from certain groups, but I think there’s enough charm to pull it through the season.

Will I watch again?: Yes, I’ll give it at least a couple more episodes. Overall, I thought it was pretty good for a sitcom pilot, and I’m interested to see where the relationship between Bryan and David will go. As well, Justin Bartha is super cute, and I’m loving Ellen Barkin.

B-

2012 Emmy Predictions

The 2012 Emmy nominations will be announced tomorrow, so I thought I’d post some last-minute predictions for the major categories. My predictions are ranked in order of who I think is most likely to receive a nomination. (In other words, just because I have something ranked as #1, it doesn’t necessarily mean I think it will end up winning the category.)

Best Comedy Series

  1. Modern Family
  2. Parks and Recreation
  3. 30 Rock
  4. The Big Bang Theory
  5. Curb Your Enthusiasm
  6. Girls

Alternates:

  1. New Girl
  2. Two and a Half Men
  3. Louie

Thoughts: I feel pretty confident in the first three. The Big Bang Theory and Curb Your Enthusiasm seem like reliable bets, given their history at the Emmys. (But are people getting tired of either/both?)The sixth spot is more difficult to predict. Will voters go for the trendy cable buzz of Girls, or the broad network comedy of New Girl? I’m betting the former, especially since there are already a lot of network shows in the mix.

Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  1. Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
  2. Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  3. Louis C.K., Louie
  4. Don Cheadle, House of Lies
  5. Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
  6. John Cryer, Two and a Half Men

Alternates:

  1. Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
  2. Aston Kutcher, Two and a Half Men
  3. Will Arnett, Up All Night

Thoughts: The first three are basically locked in. Cheadle’s show is very small, but I think he’s respected enough to get in. David and his show have had a strong run with the Emmy’s. But then we have the matter of Two and a Half Men. Will the Emmy’s recognize the reliable veteran of the show (Cryer, who was nominated in the supporting category last year), or its splashy new star (Kutcher)? Or neither? Galecki was nominated last year, so I definitely wouldn’t count him out, either.

Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  1. Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
  2. Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  3. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
  4. Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
  5. Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
  6. Melissa McCarthy, Mike and Molly

Alternates:

  1. Laura Dern, Enlightened
  2. Laura Linney, The Big C
  3. Lena Dunham, Girls

Thoughts: This is a packed category. The first three ladies are in. Deschanel probably has the right combo of star power and a hit show. The next two spots are honestly a toss-up, and I could see any of the above names getting in.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  1. Ty Burrell, Modern Family
  2. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
  3. Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
  4. Ed O’Neill, Modern Family
  5. Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
  6. Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother

Alternates:

  1. Chris Colfer, Glee
  2. Max Greenfield, New Girl

Thoughts: All the Modern Family dudes are in. (Can it be Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s turn to win this year? Please?) I think Offerman will finally get his well-deserved nomination. Sixth spot could go to either Harris or Colfer. I think the fading interest in Glee from both the Emmys and the general population could cost Colfer his nom this year.

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  1. Julie Bowen, Modern Family
  2. Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
  3. Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
  4. Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
  5. Betty White, Hot in Cleveland
  6. Cloris Leachman, Raising Hope

Alternates:

  1. Jane Lynch, Glee
  2. Maya Rudolph, Up All Night
  3. Cheryl Hines, Suburgatory

Thoughts: A bit of a blah category, if you ask me (though I’d love to see Wiig win). The first four are very likely to get in. Betty White always gets nominated for things. I can’t really come up with a compelling sixth name, so I’ll go with veteran actress Leachman. I don’t think Lynch had enough to do this season to get in.

Best Drama Series

  1. Mad Men
  2. Breaking Bad
  3. Game of Thrones
  4. Homeland
  5. Boardwalk Empire
  6. Downton Abbey

Alternates:

  1. The Good Wife
  2. House
  3. Dexter

Thoughts: I feel fairly confident in those six choices. They seem like the hot, critically acclaimed shows right now. However, if the Emmy’s want to include at least one network show, they could go with their beloved Good Wife, or they could send House off with one last nomination.

Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  1. Jon Hamm, Mad Men
  2. Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
  3. Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
  4. Damian Lewis, Homeland
  5. Hugh Laurie, House
  6. Kelsey Grammar, Boss

Alternates:

  1. Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  2. Timothy Olyphant, Justified
  3. Dustin Hoffman, Luck

Thoughts: Hamm and Cranston are obviously in. Buscemi and Lewis are also very likely, I think. Laurie, who has been nominated (and lost) for the last six years in a row will probably be recognized for his final season. (Could he even be a dark horse to win?) Will Michael C. Hall’s own nomination streak end in favour of Grammar’s new show? It’s hard to say, but I’m guessing yes.

Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  1. Claire Danes, Homeland
  2. Juliana Margulies, The Good Wife
  3. Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
  4. Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: SVU
  5. Glenn Close, Damages
  6. Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Alternates:

  1. Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
  2. Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
  3. Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey

Thoughts: The first three are in, and I say the Emmy is Danes’ to lose. Harigtay has been nominated for the past eight years, so why would she stop being nominated now? (She won back in 2006.) Glenn Close also seems likely. Tough call for the sixth spot. Even though Sedgwick missed out on the nomination last year and Bates got in, I’m going with Sedgwick.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  1. Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
  2. Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  3. John Slatery, Mad Men
  4. Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad
  5. Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
  6. Mandy Patinkin, Homeland

Alternates:

  1. Walton Goggins, Justified
  2. Nick Nolte, Luck
  3. John Goodman, Damages

Thoughts: First three seem like solid bets. I’d say Esposito is likely. Then it gets tough. This is what we call guessing.

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

  1. Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
  2. Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
  3. Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
  4. Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
  5. Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
  6. Rose Byrne, Damages

Alternates:

  1. Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
  2. Michelle Forbes, The Killing
  3. Angelica Huston, Smash

Thoughts: Well, it seems like there are six spots and seven ladies with a chance at filling them. I could see anyone but Smith or Hendricks missing out, but I’m guessing Gunn right now. I haven’t seen the fourth season of Breaking Bad yet, but based on the first three, she doesn’t really seem Emmy-worthy.

Top 10 Sketches of SNL Season 37

Oh, SNL. Sometimes I wonder why I watch it every week. But then a character like Stefon comes along and makes me fall in love with the show all over again.

I thought this past season was actually a very strong one for the show. It seemed like the writing was a bit tighter, and with standout performers like Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and relative newbie Taran Killam stepping up to the plate, it gave us plenty of memorable moments. Here’s a look at some of the best.

Honorable Mention: “She’s a Rainbow” (Mick Jagger)

I didn’t feel right including it on my list, since this wasn’t a proper sketch and wasn’t supposed to be humorous. However, it was such a lovely send-off for Kristen Wiig that I would be remised not to mention it. Love Mick Jagger and Arcade Fire, love the rest of the cast members’ reaction. Wiig is awesome, and I’m sad to see her go.


Honorable Mention: “The Real Housewives of Disney” (Lindsay Lohan)

Definitely had some great moments (Taran Killam’s snooty Prince Charming laugh, Wiig’s drunken Cinderella), but didn’t quite live up to its potential as an entire comedy bit for me.

Honorable Mention: “J Pop America Funtime Now!” (Anna Faris)

Killam and Vanessa Bayer play two white kids obsessed with Japanese culture who are gleeful in their unintentional racism. At least they have Sudeikis’ exasperated teacher to try and set them straight. Killam’s moony grin kills me.

10. Bein’ Quirky With Zooey Deschanel (Zooey Deschanel)

Sketches that allow the cast to roll out their celebrity impressions are often enjoyable, but rarely noteworthy. But something about this sketch just worked. We may have seen Killam’s pitiable Michael Cera, Wiig’s giggling Bjork (who knits a sweater for an octopus and leaves “one extra hole for its dreams and ideas”), but they’re perfect in this setting. Abby Elliot’s adorkable Zooey Deschanel and Zooey Deschanel’s Mary-Kate Olsen were also nice.


9. Columbus Day Assblast (Ben Stiller)

Ass Dan will never not be funny to me.

8. You Can Do Anything! (Daniel Radcliffe)

Radcliffe was an eager host, so it made sense to give him such a high-energy sketch to work with. It cleverly commented on the obliviousness and delusions of young people today, and Radcliffe’s little jig was just wonderful. It also gave me a phrase to work into conversation: “I tried, and therefore no one should criticize me.” Radcliffe was actually a great host.


7. Someone Like You (Emma Stone)

It’s a simple premise: everyone listens to Adele’s “Someone Like You” and cries uncontrollably. But it’s really funny. Nasim Pedrad gets the Best Crier in Show award from me.


6. B108FM (Lindsay Lohan)

There wasn’t a lot to this sketch, but I just really, really enjoyed it. It was nice to see Killam and Bobby Moynihan get their own sketch. Playing two morning radio DJ’s in the middle of nowhere, Killam and Moynihan’s enthusiasm was infectious. Lohan’s contribution was less than stellar, but even she couldn’t bring down the gleeful mood of this one.

5. Retirement Party (Jason Segel)

This is a bit of a bizarre one, and some would say that it doesn’t go anywhere. I, however, found it increasingly hilarious to watch Wiig exclaim, “I don’t have anything to say!” repeatedly. “I’m not quick on my feet. I’m not Robin William.”

4.Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing (Melissa McCarthy)

McCarthy proved countless times that she was a host up for anything. Perhaps this was never more apparent than in this sketch, which revolved around a focus group sampling ranch dressing. McCarthy’s comedic timing and ability to go with the flow are just two reasons why she was one of the best hosts of the season.

3. Coach Bert (Steve Buscemi)

Definitely an edgy one, considering it came right on the heels of the Penn State scandal. Very funny, though, and Buscemi was the perfect host to pull it off. I love when SNL goes dark (see also: Jason Sudeikis as the Devil).

2. Lord Wyndemere (Anna Faris)

Paul Brittain, you shall be missed. His delightful little sweets-loving lord was an inspired character. Jason Sudeikis as the enraptured father and Bill Hader as the footman, Turlington, were almost just as good.

1. Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen (Sofia Vergara)

I had never heard of Andy Cohen when I watched this sketch, and I’ve actually still never seen him live in action. But something about Killam’s gleeful self-delusions as Cohen won me over. I laughed. A lot. This was one of Killam’s standout moments of the season, and I still can’t get that image of his face on a dog’s body out of my head.

Other Notable Bits (AKA things that weren’t their own sketch, but still were funny):

  • Bobby Moynihan as Drunk Uncle on Weekend Update (“Netflix me! Netflix me!”)
  • Justin Timberlake as Bon Iver
  • Nicholas Cage appearing in Get in the Cage
  • Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Seth Myers sharing the Weekend Update desk. That whole Jimmy Fallon episode was just lovely.
  • Jason Sudeikis playing both the Devil and Jesus over the course of the season
  • The entire Maya Rudolph episode. Seriously. There wasn’t one super standout sketch for me, but it was just an all-around fantastic episode.