Terriers is a one season long FX crime drama that aired in 2010 that earned a lot of critical love, but was ultimately cancelled due to poor ratings. So I decided to check it out when I had some leisure time on my hands during spring vacation and really enjoyed the fresh take on the old private detective story. Most of the enjoyment came from the strong writing and the acting fo the two lead actors Donal Logue and Michael Raymon James. Logue (best known to me from The Tao of Steve) plays Hank a recovering alcoholic and ex-cop who sort of recruited former thief James (best known to me for his role in True Blood) as his partner. Half the fun is the banter between the two. They solve crimes and struggle with a season long mystery amid personal distractions. It's too bad it only got one season, but what an entertaining season that was.
I was intrigued to hear about the made-for-Netflix TV series House of Cards (2013) that was produced by David Fincher starring Kevin Spacey. I finally made the plunge when I saw it endorsed by Steven Soderbergh in a recent interview. Fincher directs two episodes and has hired a stable of proven directors in the other episodes: James Foley (Glen Gary Glen Ross) 3 episodes, Carl Franklin (Devil In A Blue Dress) 2 episodes, Allen Coulter (Sopranos) 2 episodes, Joel Schumaker (Batman Forever) 2 episodes, and Charels McDougall (several quality TV series like The Office and Parks and Recreation). The writing, based on a BBC series of the same name, is also high quality and captures the spirit of politics in America. I haven't even started to talk about the great performances-first and foremost, Kevin Spacey sets the pace but is ably supported by fine performances from Robin Wright, Michale Kelly, Kate Mara, and Corey Stoll among a strong supporting cast. I like the fact that all 13 episodes were available from the get go, so you can binge on them if you want. I'm looking forward ot next season to see if they can keep it up.
I have to admit when I heard about the new HBO produced comedy Girls, it did not register as a show that I would be interested in watching. I decided to give it a go when I learned from this article that Steven Soderbergh watches it. I was also happy to see that Jud Apatow is a co-producer of the series. It is essentially the brain child of Lena Dunham, who apparently made and directed the film Tiny Furniture, which is on my to-see list. The series is quirky, and mostly funny. The cast is generally very good, and I'm surprised on how good the writing can be. Perhaps, too much of Dunham naked or undressed. It kind of reminds me of Louie, because it sometimes inhabits dark places and has lots of awkward sex. I think it is one of the better comedies out there.
I probalby watched more TV shows this year than in recent years-catching up with some well received shows that I had missed the first time around. Here's my rankings:
1. Breaking Bad-can't wait to see how the writers will end it.
2. Mad Men-consistently excellent in all areas of production.
3. Boardwalk Empire-I don't know why I waited on this: Prohibition, gangsters, Martin Scorcese, Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams, HBO, etc...this show really got its legs in the third season.
4. Justified-Rayland Givens is a guy you don't want to mess around with-created by Elmore Leonard.
5. Game of Thrones-fantasy usually not my thing, but HBO, great acting, and fascinating politics.
6. Louie-not really a comedy, but provocative story lines.
7. Community-the best comedy on TV.
8. 30 Rock-the second best comedy on TV.
9. Homeland-disappointed with season 2 and stopped watching, but season one is very compelling TV with great acting.
10. The Walking Dead-technically I haven't started watching season three, since I just finished season two. I liked it enough to continue on, but lacks the high level writng of the shows at the top of this list.
I finally started watching the HBO Prohibition era drama Boardwalk Empire. There is a lot that is attractive to me: one of the executive producers, and director of the pilot, is Martin Scorcese (one of my favorite directors of all time), several other members of the production team worked on another great New Jersey crime drama, The Sopranos: producer-writer Terrence Winter and producer-writer Tim Van Patten, one of my favorite character actors of all-time in the lead role of Nucky Johnson-Steve Buscemi, as well as one of the standout actors from The Wire: Michael Kenneth Williams ("Omar"). The rest of the cast has some great actors as well: Kelly Macdonald of whom I have been a fan of since Trainspotting, Grethcen Moll, Dabney Coleman, Paz LaHuerta, and several others. I like how the writers have created fictional characters and story-lines that intersect with real historical figures (like Arnold Rothstein, Al Capone, etc.) that intersect with real historical events (Prohibiting, women's suffrage, the Black Sox scandal,etc...). I also like the fact that it isn't a straight gangster series and that politics are involved in the equation as well. I look forward to catching up with season three, which is currently in progress now.
Homeland is a 2011 Showtime series starring Claire Danes based on an Israeli TV show called "Abduction," that garnered a lot of critical praise last year. Thus I decided to check it out, and wasn't disappointed. Danes plays a CIA operative, Carrie Mathison, who believes that former POW Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis) has been turned into a terrorist operative. Lewis does some excellent work in this series and like Danes was nominated for a Golden Globe (Danes won and Lewis lost). There are plenty of plot twists and turns (excellent writing) and there is a great support cast, especially Mandy Patinkin as Danes' mentor and boss, Saul Berenson. It is Showtime so there is gratuitous nudity and adult language. I'm looking forward to Season 2.
I was inspired to search out the 1979 BBC series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring Alec Guiness as George Smiley after seeing the 2011 film version starring Gary Oldman. There are many merits of the BBC production, most notably the fact that it was a seven part miniseries, which allows for more exposition of story, character, and background information. Alec Guniness is great in his role and it seems that the director of the 2011 version, Tomas Alfredson, borrowed some of the tone for his gray and bleak version of the story. I think both versions are well worth seeing. Now it's time to read the actual John Le Carre novel.
Kings was a one season biblical based series starring Ian McShane (of Deadwood fame) on NBC in 2009. I read this appraisal on Slate and decided to seek it out. I must admit that I was mainly drawn to the story because of McShane, but what drew me into the story was all the political maneuvering and subtle references to contemporary world affairs (profit-based wars anyone?). This is one of the reason I was also drawn into HBO’s Game of Thrones as well. I guess I was also trying to piece together the biblical references in the story as well. I guess I am also drawn to what is presented as a sort of alternative history if religion and the state were united in a monarchy in the modern western world. I would have liked to see where they would have taken the story in a second season, but alas it never found an audience.
I'm probably watching less TV than before, but there were several shows that I kept up with that I think deserve mention.
1. Breaking Bad
3. Friday Night Lights
5. Mildred Pierce
6. Game Of Thrones
There's a few series that I had started watching but fell behind and didn't see this year that might have made the list after reading other lists which include many of them: Louie, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, True Blood.
I've been preparing for my first visit to Panama, for the 2011 Panama TESOL Conference, by using a variety of sources. One of the best and most up to date sources was the 36 Hours in Panama City from The New York Times from April of this year. There was a follow up article about Taboga, A Peaceful Haven-Overnighter, an easy day trip from Panama City, in June of this year as well. These article were great starting points, but I wouldn't feel completely secure until I had my copy of Lonely Planet: Panama.I correctly guessed that Anthony Bourdrain must have visited Panama for his series, No Reservations, and I was happy to know it was his first episode for the 2010 season.
For background information, I read John Le Carre's novel The Tailor of Panama. It is only the second Le Carre novel I've read (the other was his third, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold). And I enjoyed it immensely, I was surprised to see so many negative comments from readers at Amazon.com, but apparently it was a sort of departure from his usual style. He clearly states that Graham Greene's Our Man In Havana was an influence in writing the novel. it is apparent to me that he has done significant research into the area and the history of the country. He also created several memorable characters like the opportunist protagonist Harry Pendel and the slimy agent Andrew Osnard. It's not a thrilling spy novel, but rather a satire with some biting black humor and a tragic ending. I had previously seen the film version, which features a fabulously degenerate Pierce Bronson as Osnard. I plan to revisit the film before I leave as well.
There's one more book I'll read in preparation, Getting To Know The General by Graham Greene. It's about his relationship with Panama and General Omar Torrijos, ruler of Panama from 1968-81. It is out of print so a little difficult to find...