26 January 2020

Shows I Didn't Watch yet Recommend

Shows I Didn't Watch but Recommend
by Kristin Battestella

Back in my day, if you were home from school during the afternoon, there was nothing to watch but soap operas. There was a maximum two televisions per household, and if someone else was watching something, then you were out of luck. Ryan's Hope, Santa Barbara, Loving, One Life to Live, All My Children, General Hospital, Sunset Beach – of course, some of those were better than others, but now both the quality and quantity of programming permeates in every part of the house.

Today's abundance of networks and streaming platforms means televisions and video devices are always playing something – whether I'm the one watching them or not. So unlike “being the remote” or the national anthem, color bars, and static; only contemporary viewers can understand how I can not have actively paid attention to an entire show yet was able to see enough of it to recommend it as fine programming. It's multitasking like trying to adjust the rabbit ears and see the fuzzy screen at the same time!

Without further nostalgic discourse, here's a list of series categorized by streaming service or network that were pleasant background television, surprisingly good dramas, and probably worthy of proper critical review viewing – which I will most likely never get around to doing because of all the shows I am already trying to really watch.

Amazon Prime
The Expanse
Good Omens
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Orphan Black

In Treatment
True Detective (just the first season, though)

Arrested Development
Black Mirror
BoJack Horseman
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
The Crown
Good Girls
Living with Yourself
The Movies That Made Us
Santa Clarita Diet
Stranger Things
The Toys That Made Us

Networks, AMC, or Hulu
Better Call Saul
Breaking Bad
Brooklyn 99
Future Man
New Girl
The Office
Parks & Recreation
Rick and Morty

Dexter (except for the end)
Homeland (just the first few seasons though)
Nurse Jackie
Ray Donovan

Naturally, I'm certainly forgetting some and just didn't catch enough of others. There are a lot of other shows that somebody started and thought was total crap and quit it, too, but that's another list.

22 January 2020

Ho-Hum Horror Shows

Ho-Hum Horror Shows
by Kristin Battestella

These short and seemingly short lived series go from could have been good and split decision seasons to just plain...stinky. Sorry!

Had Potential

The Covington Witches – These two 2019 episodes combine for over an hour and a half of funerals, candles, rituals, witches, and tarot in an African American infused Philadelphia ripe for a horror tale. Clearly this is a shoestring production with a forgivable low budget, uneven sound, okay lighting, and some amateur performances. However, the extremely tight camerawork not just cuts the proverbial corners but crops out half the picture – heads are cut off and viewers are left looking at a wall while people talk outside the frame. Unnecessary editing and location notations for every scene contribute to the cluttered feeling, and the barren design somehow feels crowded, interfering with the naturalistic conversations about wrangling in reluctant family members with magic warnings. Ominous music adds to the natural banter – which is nice when we can see both people in the uninterrupted frame properly as more relatives end up dead thanks to mysterious boxes, tea readings, and suspect fires. Mourners dressed in black, cemetery scenes, and wide outdoor shots create much needed scene setting breathers alongside intriguing homemade voodoo dolls, teaching spells, incense, and goddess prayers. Purification charms and chants escalate as nieces ask if they are dark witches or do magic for light but aren't afraid either way. The ladies are getting nasty with the evil spells, so why can't the elder family just tell the ones who don't know about all the witchcraft? Real estate runarounds and binding spells end up going too far with some penis removal magic, and that's certainly more interesting than the going to this house, then visiting that house, asking for coffee, and then leaving before the beverage is made. Why certain children don't know they are witches and why one distant niece comes into wealth and property isn't fully explained, and the pace is slow with redundant, roundabout scenes creating confusion. Are we missing an important piece of the puzzle or just left to wonder if a cryptic scene serves any purpose? Phone calls with nothing but “What does it all mean?” and “I don't know” waste time before men who don't know what they're in for meet an abrupt end and leave us wanting the rest of the story. This is based on a self published book series, and there isn't a lot of information about whether this show is intended as an in house web series, one supersized book trailer, or a pilot to shop for something bigger – which it had the potential to be.

A Split Decision

Slasher: Season 3 – This 2019 eight episode anthology subtitled Solstice breaks down into a real time murder mystery with neon raves, risque romps, and back alley stabbings. Unloving neighbors won't open the door to help but social media obsessed onlookers video the crime scene – desperate for a like, share, or viral fame a la a modern Rear Window. High schoolers and cafe hipsters mingle where they shouldn't while Muslims, lesbians, hidden homosexuals, and multi-ethnic families live side by side with bigots, racists, and abusers. Hate crimes, homophobia, and mob mentalities lead to lingering pain, personal drama, and love triangles. Who's listening to the banging against the wall or scrolling on for the next guy while in still in bed with the last one? Opportunists of all sexual connections, jerky husbands, and down low secrets aren't fair to anybody and escalate to viral bullying, hate mongering, and threats. Is it karma when those who warned to reap what you sow get what they deserve? Forensic details, mature conversations, and police theories counter everyone playing the victim while lifestyle bloggers claim blackmail recordings are today's journalism. Tacky green wallpaper, pink mood lighting, and dark red blood anchor the downtrodden apartment complex, but excessive angles, visual distortions, warped sounds, and shaky cams detract rather than add scares. Acid in the toilet drownings are better filmed with subtle blurry as the disturbing violence increases with personal dissections and no empathy. Although each episode focuses on one neighbor's perspective, there are a lot of people coming and going amid the red herrings and school pranksters, and it's tough to care about so many nasty, easily forgotten people. Why are only one pair of detectives on this if three people are dead, two are missing, and two more have been attacked all in the same complex connected to a previous murder? We meet people for them to die, which, while not unexpected, isn't fulfilling either. Great strides with asexual topics happen too late, taking a backseat to numbing snuff entertainment and desensitizing violent media. Bathtub suicide attempts and drilling into skulls are just gore, and disappointingly, the killer is called 'Druid' because of the solstice date – there are no cult or ritual aspects. I pegged the murderer by the third episode, as it's obvious the deaths and clean ups are too elaborate for the onscreen hours, and everything sags in the middle once the police are made dumb. Though better than the Terrible Year Two, this goes on too long with torture porn delays and dream fake outs when it should have been a four part limited event. People wonder if they are cursed because death and consequences follow them, but the character drama and introspective taut are dropped for excessive splatter, slow motion rage, and body parts in the boiler room. Killer close calls suddenly happen to create suspense, and neighbors come together too late thanks to contrivances as the unraveling second half runs out of steam.

Skip It

Age of the Living Dead – This obscure six part 2018 UK/Prime series has a great premise with West Coast humans and East Coast vampires battling it out in a quarantined America. News bulletins and emergency notifications introduce the violence, but abandoned, post-apocalyptic buildings – not to mention the title – immediately suggest zombies rather than vampires. Beyond families fleeing flashbacks used for man pain introductions, we don't see how this division came to be when it would be fascinating to see America struggle in the wake of disaster for ten years without foreign goods or assistance. People train to fight vampires in New Mexico, a lady president has a cool L.A. compound, and pretentious New York vampires wax on mediocrity as they explain how they're tired of policing themselves in exchange for human blood donations. Stilted dialogue compounds the vampire sex or bathing in blood as bright human scenes and purple night time tints make sure we know who is the vampire daughter and rebel human son. It's obvious the writers are unfamiliar with U.S. geography as staff meetings debate nuking everything east of the Mississippi and vampires bemoan the Tupperware blood in favor of taking over the globe. For ten years they had an agreement, so why is all this talk happening now? Why didn't the vampire virus spread? How did the rest of the world contain the nation? Instead of telling us how the premise came to be, laughable performances, hollow music montages, and trite romance contribute to the cliché vampires named Victor. Bad editing can't compensate for the jarring onscreen pace – hectic in your face people and painfully slow vampires – and obnoxious evil glares do little amid leukemia angst and unnecessary traitors. Union Jack flags and Big Ben signify London is calling as the British claim one thing and do another, tossing another wrench at the screen when a U.K. not U.S. setting would have eliminated the awkward locations and bad accents. Angry generals make redundant end of the world claims, but even after skipping the middle episodes, it's still just hot air. These vampires have kids, develop a synthetic blood substitute, and say they've been waiting to be out in the open for centuries yet shootouts, grandstanding speeches, and overhead shots of every locale are more important. The British meddling stateside doesn't get far – although the wife thought dead now turned into a vampire makes our star crossed lovers...undead step siblings? There isn't much horror nor all that much science fiction as vampire councils have board meetings and debating people finally take action over melodramatic villains and vampire boy loves human girl switch-a-roos. Mentions of six hundred years of vampire history fall to the wayside for a “Who's on First?” cure, and ultimately it's all a waste of time. If humans are donating blood to vampires, why not put the cure in the food supply? ¯\_()_/¯

16 January 2020

Brooding Victorians and Moody Costume Dramas

Brooding Victorians and Moody Costume Dramas
by Kristin Battestella

Well, the title pretty much says it all. If you're looking for angst, frocks, pathos, or British accents, settle in for these windswept period pieces and literary flavorings.

Jane Eyre – Lace, candles, bonnets, frills, and waist coasts open this eleven episode 1983 adaptation starring Zelah Clarke (Dombey & Son) and Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights). The print is flat now and the production values hampered, however the attention to detail accents the gloomy manor house and its cruel family, abusive isolation, and rare comfort in books. Supposed problem child Jane is passed along to a terrible school where the punishment only increases because of her defiance in the face of starvation, illness, fatal friends, and instruments of correction. Often excised scenes are here word for word, and the very British glum and decorum may be boring for some before the warmth and comfort found in the governess position at Thornfield Hall. Kindly housekeepers and friendly chats let Jane express herself, but locked rooms, ghostly echoes, and whispers of the peculiar master build ominous before an enigmatic roadside encounter with a handsome stranger. Aren't all Jane Eyres identified by their Rochesters? Dalton's brooding suave is very much what we think of in a Rochester – smoldering and easily flustered by Jane in debates over tea where dialogue and performance are primary. He's used to having his way but this lowly governess won't buckle despite the unresolved sexual tension before there was even UST. Jane isn't exceptional but won't yield on her convictions, earning a begrudging respect from the melancholy Rochester, who can confide in her about reluctant gentry matches and superiority versus equality. He admires Jane's purity and would seek to reform through her, wearing his heart on his sleeve even as his secrets would corrupt her. Sinister violence and mysterious accidents make happiness too good to be true alongside beds set on fire, fascinating dualities on character and wickedness, and wild versus saintly symbolism. Jealous resentments dampen pleasant outdoor scenes, turning charming one on one banter into angry, looming, and yearning repression. Rochester is not the silent type, and the scene chewing in many ways has to speak for both characters and draw out do gooder Jane. In spite of the deathbed confessions, age differences, be on your guard warnings, and symbolic white veils torn in two – talk about red flags, girl – we're here for it hook, line, and sinker, swept up in the impediments at the altar, scary attic scenes, bitter revelations, and fleeing into the moors to forgo love and be true to oneself. Seriously though, what is St. John's problem anyway? While this is a wonderful story, the finale does rely on sudden relatives and coincidental fortunes, and I for one was always disappointing something more spooky wasn't afoot. Late episodes away from Thornfield drag thanks to odd scenes without first person narrator Jane and this is a little too long to marathon all at once, but this unabashedly takes its time to assure a complete adaptation. I love the 2011 version for its compact, more gothic spirit; however this is delightful for fans of the cast, period piece audiences, classroom comparisons, and Bronte lovers.

The Man Who Invented Christmas – Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) stars as Charles Dickens alongside Christopher Plummer (Somewhere in Time) and Jonathan Pryce (Hysteria) in this whimsical 2017 account on what really happened during the 1843 writing of A Christmas Carol. Our successful author has toured America to much fanfare, but Dickens is ready to get back to work despite unforthcoming publishers thanks to the poor sales of Barnaby Rudge, negative Martin Chuzzlewit reviews, and gasp – writer's block. It's expensive being a London gentleman when the wife is redecorating, bills are mounting, and everyone wants a donation from the exhausted Dickens, who has no creativity and a deadline to meet. Fancy garb, carriages, quills, candles, and humorous crescendos create charm alongside entertaining children with fairy tales and holiday mentions of veils being lifted as spirits roam between worlds. Grim alleys, dark cemeteries, bitter mourners, snobby friends wishing the poor would die, and humbug revelations inspire Dickens to write about a vile money maker learning the err of his ways thanks to sprites and spiritual intervention. Unfortunately, there wasn't a market for Christmas books back then and no profit in such a minor holiday. Going it alone, Dickens bounces about his bower mimicking voices – because if your find the character's name, he will appear. Similar to Miss Potter, Dickens transcribes Carol quotes from bemusing encounters with the famous characters entering his chamber. Scenes we know and love are acted out before him until an abrupt “That's as far as I've gotten” halt while the players add their opinions on the tale whether he wants them to or not. After starting well, begging for money and mooching relatives slow the spirited possibilities, and we shouldn't leave Dickens' breakthrough once the wonderful frenzy happens. There are hints of darker Dickens aspects, but his debtors fears and realistic problems feel shoehorned in once the fanciful comes to life. It's tough to have the author mirror Scrooge with contrived overnight changes and revelations about Dickens' terrible childhood when we know his life story and anything truly heavy is off limits. Problems are created just for a third act resolution, and one on one confrontations with his father regarding Dickens' lingering shame and brokenness are more powerful. The source here is a non-fiction book, but the film is obviously fiction, and viewers know Dickens had success before and will again. Maybe the real world Victorian issues are meant to parallel the Carol constructs, however the narrative can be uneven, interrupting arguments about killing off characters while they wait about his room or repeating his struggle over what of himself to put on the page before wondering what the point of a story is if there is no hope. After all the forgiveness discourse, a quick postscript with newfangled Christmas trees says everything turned out just fine – although writers today seeing Dickens' need to self publish and inability to get a $300 loan know circumstances haven't really changed amirite? This isn't necessarily a Christmas movie, and the family friendly fantasy may be too much for those seeking a hardcore Dickens biography. Some audiences may be sly to the author within his own story gimmick, too. Fortunately, there's enough charm in the wholesome nuggets and inventive twists on the familiar tale, and I'd also here for Plummer playing Scrooge en masse yes please.

The Turn of the Screw Downton Abbey alum Michelle Dockery joins Dan Stevens (again) and Nicola Walker (MI-5) in this ninety minute 2009 BBC adaptation of the Henry James askew moving the repressed ambiguity to 1921 institutions with post war doctors analyzing our governess' infatuation with her employer, the topsy turvy male shortage, and of kilter Bly Manor. Fashions, hats, sweet automobiles, fine woodwork, and hefty antiques sell the refreshing setting, however the nonsensical strobe flashes look amateur on top of the time wasting, disjointed doctoring add-ons and unnecessary narration. Visions of dalliances that initially upgrade the Victorian scandalous soon hit the viewer over the head one too many times as the governess imagines her master and his saucy approval. She insists she's not the nervous type, but the dark interiors, maze like staircases, and distorted camera angles add to the strange noises and creepy country manor unease. She's in charge, above housekeepers and maids, but there are too many flighty women doing all the work in this house. Parasols and summer white contrast eerie fog and trains as her boy charge is expelled from school without explanation. The cheeky children whisper about their previous, pretty governess – unbothered by screams, accidents, or dying maids. Melancholy piano music, graveyard echoes, dark figures amid the trees, and faces in the window build on the female isolation, yet all insist there are no ghosts – surely she's just hysterical, overwrought, and obsessed with men. Rumors of suicide and a woman ruined by her lover seem proved by hidden pictures of the master's up to no good valet, and tales of his violence among the unprotected women are better than seeing suspect flashbacks. The prim style degrades to loose hair and nightgowns as our governess jumps to dire conclusions and possessive delirium, but the shouting about it afterward with her doctor interruptions break the tainted picnics and frantic tension. We don't need his sounding board to deduce her fears, just let us see the abusive violence and water perils. Crazy laughter and disembodied voices escalate as the phantoms, repression, and projection possibilities culminate in a one on one battle for the truth. The deviations here are flawed, and while the horror lite is fine for gothic period piece fans, some viewers will expect more than the have it both ways attempt at the ghosts and crazy ambiguity. This isn't the best version but thanks to the cast and unique setting, it can be a good introduction for audiences who haven't seen The Innocents.

A Disappointment

Under Capricorn – Ingrid Bergman (Anastasia) and Joseph Cotten (Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte) star in this overlong 1949 mystery from director Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds) with an opening narration filling in the Colonial Australia history and past Ireland secrets before 1831 governors, stiff upper lip politicking, and wooden exposition. Who has money, who's related to whom, who's doing the land deals – it's all clunky and yawn worthy on top of a period setting perhaps obscure for American audiences then and now. Colorful waistcoats, cravats, and frocks alongside muddy frontier streets and carriages attempt an early Victorian meets Wild West tone, but the shrunken heads rolling at their feet is more awkward then shocking. Hitchcock attempts new techniques here in his second Technicolor film – long takes, zooms, and tracking cameras following the players in scene. Unfortunately, the direction is stilted, moving from men talking to other men talking about what the other men just said. The first fifteen minutes of convicts turned businessmen and conversations while bathing in a barrel could have been excised, opening instead with the newly arrived scoundrel eavesdropping on a suspect dinner at the creepy manor house. Iron-fisted housekeepers, beaten staff, and disobedient convicts add to the drinks, whispers, social shunnings, and an intriguingly absent wife – who has some history with the new man in town. So much time is spent talking about the past at the expense of the present, yet people readily drop all their secrets and explain their life stories to folks they've just met. A few sentimental winks and smiles bolster the love story elements, however it's awkward to see Bergman both lighting up the room as well as playing the drunken barefoot and wobbling sickly. Uncharismatic, strong chinned men, swelling crescendos, and fainting women combine for all the things audiences bemoan about period pieces, and the supposedly scandalous love triangles remain undynamic. A stable boy eloping with the master's daughter and killing her brother in the process while the maid secretly poisons the wife would make for an interesting tale, but most of that action is told after the fact rather than shown. The tiara ensemble and divine ball make for the one exceptional, uninterrupted sequence capturing all the guilt and performance lacking in the rest of the film. Despite horse chases, who really shot whom revelations, and deportation threats; the drama never seems to happen before the abrupt happy ending. One can see what Hitchcock is trying to attempt with characters bound to the visual frame as well as their inescapable history. Unfortunately, calling attention to the drama with the camera only shows how thin the story is. Even if viewers leave any Master of Suspense expectations aside and like romantic period yarns, this is really only for the Hitchcock and Bergman completists.

31 December 2019

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season 3

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season Three Gets Bold
by Kristin Battestella

The twenty-four episodes of the 1972-73 Third Season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show go bold as associate news producer Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) tackles issues in the workplace alongside boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), and inept anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) as well as the topical at home with friends and neighbors Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman).

In the “The Good Time News” premiere, Mary discovers the man previously in her position was paid fifty dollars more than her and he didn't do as good a job. Weak claims that a family man deserves to be paid more than a single woman more competent immediately tackle equality in the workplace while the image conscious executives demand a fresh and entertaining news hour. This lighthearted approach divides the newsroom, for news isn't supposed to make people laugh for ratings – it's truth not fake. Yes, way back then The Mary Tyler Moore Show actually equates dishonest reporting and fake news with drinking from a dribble glass on the air for a fascinating new relevance today. However, when Mary accidentally tells the not so endearing Ted to shut up on the air, she earns a twenty-five dollar a week raise. Of course, Lou won't ask a saucy question over the phone when Mary walks in the room for “It's Whether You Win or Lose.” His trip to Vegas is canceled thanks to a Minnesota snowstorm, but once Lou sees how much cash Ted carries in his wallet, he invites him to an impromptu WJM poker game. Mary arranges Lou's scotch, water, and scotch and water; but the only table available is from the castle set in the kid's studio and Lou banishes Mary from the kingdom when she tries to break up the game with pizza. The zany character moments and well balanced plot see everyone humorously involved, and we would have loved to have seen more of Mary's parents Dottie and Walter Richards, too. However Nanette Fabray (One Day at a Time) only appears in two episodes while Bill Quinn (The Bob Newhart Show) appears in three, as the very nature of The Mary Tyler Moore Show doesn't allow for our progressive single gal to turn toward her parents to solve every sitcom dilemma even when they move to Minneapolis in “Just Around the Corner.” They all really get along well, but the close proximity is cramping Mary's style, cleaning her already clean apartment and dusting where she's already dusted. Dottie pulls up Mary's low cut blouse and tells her to be home before midnight, but when Mary's out all night, Walter calls incessantly until Mary insists it's her own business. She feels bad about telling them she isn't a baby anymore in a bemusingly tearful argument, but The Mary Tyler Moore Show takes a stand as Mary remains firm about living on her own. Her parents must simply accept that they won't know where she is and what's she's doing half the time!

During Dottie's birthday in “You've Got a Friend,” Walter feels left out, bored, and drives the ladies crazy, so Mary takes him to lunch with Lou for a delicious clashing between her two favorite men. Walter is up on all the latest healthy eating trends, but Lou doubles up his vodka martinis, and Mary's caught in the middle when her mom's left out now, too. As mentioned in My Favorite Television Shows list, the “Don't forget to take your pill” zinger here is one of The Mary Tyler Moore Show's best winks. When both Mary and her father answer “I won't,” it's a then shocking admission that doesn't have to say anything else regarding single swinging and birth control. However, it's terribly touching when Walter bandages his daughter's cut and asks if she ever gets lonely. Mary admits to cutting her fingers a lot but otherwise, she has a good life – not that it stops matchmaker Phyllis from going overboard in setting up Mary with her pianist brother in “My Brother's Keeper.” Unfortunately, much to Phyllis' horror, he instead strikes up a cozy friendship with Rhoda, who loves digging at her melodramatic “sis” Phyllis. One of Mary's disastrous parties leads to an uncomfortable gay outing that's played for a punchline, but the The Mary Tyler Moore Show even going there is quite modern for its day. Some people get married, some like being single, some people are gay but that doesn't mean we can't all have a good time together. If someone wants to know something they should just ask, and if one doesn't want to share their age, status, or orientation, that's groovy, too. Of course, Phyllis is just relieved this means her brother isn't marrying Rhoda, but the societal topsy turvy continues in “What Do You Say When the Boss Says 'I Love You'?” when there's a new female program director. Mary gloats while Lou claims to be unfazed by a lady boss who knows her business in great one on ones scenes and woman to woman chats. Obviously she falls in love with Lou, and granted, the scandalous notion is played for laughs, but it's a mature and ahead of its time tale nonetheless. Likewise, the penultimate standout “Put on a Happy Face” shows just how much crap women go through as one disaster after another ruins the annual Television Editors Awards for the nominated Mary. Being late, flat tires, spilled coffee, no date, work mistakes, dropped groceries, fevers, sprained ankles, ruined dresses, bad hair, rain – as much as we love Mary, there's something gleeful in her having one of those days with her name spelled wrong on the award. Mary also lends money to Rhoda in “Mary Richards and the Incredible Plant Lady” for a new boutique business and almost immediately regrets the $995 when another $300 is needed for “Rhoda's Dendron.” The friends have no problem loaning each other money when it's small bills, but banking technicalities, loan applications, and car repairs add to the commentary on women doing business, money, money between friends, and hideous yellow cars.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show almost makes it through Year Three without any sub par entries, but another double date and another guy intent on immediately marrying Mary becomes much too much in “Romeo and Mary.” Bad humor complete with racist jokes acerbates the insistent first date obsession, and Mary is rightfully infuriated when this creeper calls constantly, barges in, plans her entire schedule, and takes out a billboard in front of her workplace. Apparently we're supposed to enjoy the crazy boyfriend send up, but it's disturbing how the men in the office think her being handcuffed to him is funny. He's forced her to come with him to win her over, and all the men agree pressuring a woman is the way to get her. He insists his persistence will make her love him by a certain date, and this may be one of the series' worst episodes since it goes directly against all the forward women's ideals thanks to terrible male tropes designed to humiliate Mary. Inexplicably, it's also all made to be her fault for not wanting to hurt his feelings or make a scene. She cowers in her apartment afraid he's outside waiting to win her heart, but threats to punch him, pour water in his lap, or have some hot coco are supposed to make everything better? Another boyfriend who broke Mary's heart before the show returns in “Remembrance of Things Past,” and it's getting tough to keep track of all the boyfriends we've seen or haven't seen. This isn't the fiance that precipitated her big city move, but this one almost proposed, too. Mary initially avoids him because he pushes all her buttons before giving in to a terrific time – which seems to be all he wants from her when she wants more. This is a fine episode in and of itself, but we've seen Mary hold out for better and we've seen this plot too many times already. Had this entry come earlier in the season – before count 'em four similar dalliances this year – it would have been better. Unfortunately, we also only see John Amos as weatherman Gordy once in the premiere as the perfect candidate to co-anchor with Ted. He does a better job of course – sharp, relaxed, funny. However, he's more so there to be the brunt of the joke for getting upset that everyone blames him for the bad weather because it isn't like he can predict it or anything.

Thirty-two year old Mary Richards hates paperwork, meetings, and feeling like she has to represent all women as the lone female executive at WJM. She'd much rather just be her shorter haired herself but will stand up when she does better work but is paid less and wants to embrace format changes – although she still can't call Mr. Grant by his first name and has conflicts with Murray when she is temporarily in charge. Mary cross stitches and has some swanky records, but compulsively cleans, mops her entire floor over an ash tray spill, faithfully takes her car for a 3,000 mile check up, alphabetizes her medicine cabinet, and thinks she needs to diet at 120 pounds. O_o She doesn't think being the only woman in the newsroom is interesting enough to be interviewed in “What is Mary Richards Really Like?” and worries her dress is too sexy and a serious tweed suit is better. Murray thinks this masculine look is cute, but Lou realizes asking her not to wear pants in the office is a pig headed demand. Mary insists she can stand up for herself against a columnist looking to twist her words, but the business and pleasure mix with awkward dates, her taking short hand of her own interview, and scandalous questions about a man spending the night on a first date. Fortunately, Mary sticks to her convictions, impressing her suitor for not being an easy catch like all the other girls. However, divorcing friends in “Have I Found a Guy for You” upset Mary, as the once ideal couple puts her in the middle thanks to seemingly harmless banter about Mary being the girl he'd marry if not for his wife causes a kerfuffle in the post-divorce dating etiquette. Rhoda insists its impossible for them to all be friends, and the series again pushes taboo topics in unique ways. Divorce couldn't be mentioned in The Mary Tyler Moore Show premise but now women can speak freely of separations as common and being tired of being a mere housewife. Mary continues to hope there is such a thing as a good marriage until her journalism teacher boyfriend from Season Two's “Room 223” returns in “The Courtship of Mary's Father's Daughter.” Now he's engaged and inviting Mary to the festivities before realizing he wants to get together with her again. Her father's happy, everyone is happy in fact – except Mary. Just because the guy is in the mood, she doesn't have to go along with it, and the defiant Mary decides waiting to be head over heels in love is more important than settling. She is not scared to not be married, and if the perfect man isn't willing to wait then so be it.

Dating also isn't going so well for the late Valerie Harper's Rhoda Morgenstern – who wants Mary to lend her her body when she also lends her her clothes. She drinks Mary's bad coffee because it's delicious and wakes her up at 5:45 a.m. for shrewd chats about being un-sexed in a long time, needing batteries, and how two men and a rope will solve anything. Rhoda exercises in baggy sweats and remains a pace behind in their ballet exercises but will run upstairs and call Mary to give her a phone out when Phyllis is bothering them. Once again The Mary Tyler Moore Show makes Rhoda a little unnecessarily pathetic – she only takes her car out of the shop for accidents – but her beaded curtain is always open with offerings of bad Jewish wine from her mother and throwaway mentions of siblings that will be retconned away on Rhoda. Overloaded outlets and dimming the lights with her heated blanket controller give her a sense of power, and doing a Santa workshop display window at work is her crowning achievement. Unfortunately the home problems come to the workplace in “Enter Rhoda's Parents” when Harold Gould (The Golden Girls) joins Nancy Walker's Ida as Rhoda's dad Martin for a disruptive tour of the newsroom. Everyone loves Martin, but Ida fears she's getting old while he gets the Cary Grant compliments. She suspects he's fooling around – she's a modern woman who knows the score – but everything plays out in Mary's apartment because they think it's nicer there compared to Rhoda's bean bag. Thankfully, it all an over reaction leading to a vow renewal so Rhoda can catch the bouquet before our ugly duckling wins her department store's Miss Hempel's beauty contest in “Rhoda the Beautiful.” She and Murray join a calorie cutter club and Rhoda loses twenty pounds, but she isn't happy after having expected to look better at last. She still dresses baggy, but admits she looks okay – refusing to believe she is a great looking girl until Lou of all people has to point out her success. It's weird everyone makes such a fuss because Harper was always beautiful, but it's a superb launch getting the character out of the titular star's shadow so she can ultimately move to her own spin-off, a notion tested with “Rhoda Morgenstern: Minneapolis to New York.” Rhoda visits home and is offered a window dressing job at Bloomingdale's, saying yes even though she'll miss Mary too much and impulsively buys a pet goldfish. Mary doesn't believe she will really move, finally taking it to heart at their farewell dinner where both get too emotional. Our two women spend most of the time here talking about their friendship in a great twofer with bemusingly backward talking of not not leaving and going away parties for staying.

Boss Lou Grant stumps Mary when he can but admits she does a great job even if he balks at the thought of faking the news to make it entertaining. He drinks at the morning meeting, hates anyone who hates television, and insists they can't disagree properly if they say how much they love each other in the argument. Lou's glad to be proven right when he is but doesn't want people to know how much he drinks and won't let any guy get fresh with Mary – even daring to enter the ladies room to see if she's alright. When Lou's promoted to program manager for “Who's in Charge Here?” he enjoys the money but is unhappy with his mod looking desk and no place to keep his scotch. Stuffy suits, upright chairs, and visual gags accent the out of place reversals – our social hierarchy insists men are bosses and women are homemakers, but Lou has to name his replacement in a fun little episode on a man versus woman's ability in the workplace. Of course, Lou claims he's going on vacation in “Operation: Lou” when he's really in the hospital to have old shrapnel removed. Again he thinks Mary can be put in charge with no fuss, but Ted brings him scotch and a television so they can watch the news together. This subtle straight man versus slap stick sardonic is better than Mary's previous hospital stay in “Hi” thanks to the opposites bonding, superb characterization, and the simplest of gags. Lou almost turns over a new leaf as a result – until Ted bamboozles a late breaking bulletin on the air. Lou spends his savings to buy his favorite local bar after the owner dies in “Lou's Place,” but he's still $1500 short of the $10k purchase and only Ted has the funds to join him. He insists their friends pay for their eighty-five cent shots, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show adds another dimension with this not so buddy relationship as cheap Ted wants his money out of this depressing bar once Lou realizes he doesn't have the charm for this kind of business. He's content with everyone being afraid of him – leading to an embarrassingly awkward sing along as he tries to to get friendly and know everyone's name in an episode that almost feels like the inspiration for Cheers.

Six sugars in his coffee Ted Baxter may walk off at the thought of having to share anchorman duties, but he runs right back to the camera at the possibility of someone else being better. When he accidentally leaves the news six minutes early, Ted thinks all the commotion was merely people showing they liked his show. Compliments on his new jacket placate him, but Ted ruins a serious news story to prove his wit when told he isn't funny and it never occurs to him that what he says insults people. Of course, he won't apologize for disliking newspapers – they are the competition and get ink on his hands. Ted claims to be hip by sleeping in the raw and getting a Beatle bowl haircut ten years too late but takes notes during poker and somehow wins $375. He pays Mary one dollar a page to type his autobiography, which he wants to call The Greatest Story Ever Told, and dresses like a bum to go to the free clinic before complaining about the wait just to be told he doesn't have a social disease. It's a surprising throwaway punchline tossed into The Mary Tyler Moore Show among Ted's watching reruns of Ozzie and Harriet for life advice and his making a paperweight out of his supposed best friend Lou's shrapnel. Ted has five goals in life – own a restaurant, replace Walter Cronkite, marry Marlo Thomas, make a million dollars, and learn how to swim – but his fan club is just old ladies who make cookies in the shape of his face in “Farmer Ted and the News.” Ted holds out on his contract over a clause forbidding him from other work like movies or Broadway, but when the nonexclusive statement is removed, the newsroom isn't laughing when Ted ends up doing commercials, pitching slicers, barking like a dog, and advertising a “woman's product” that Lou doesn't even know what it is. Fortunately, Lou's threats about newsman dignity set Ted straight. Fittingly, The Mary Tyler Moore Show introduces Georgia Engel (Everybody Loves Raymond) as Georgette Franklin in “Rhoda Morgenstern: Minneapolis to New York” since the quiet, seemingly dim witted but sweet girl who also works at Hempel's but later sells door to door cosmetics would be a soft replacement for the soon to be spun-off Rhoda. She flirts with Ted but drives away before he can make a night of it as he intends and brings Mary homemade gifts to say thank you, always helping and being polite so she's never a bother. By her third appearance in “The Georgette Story” she's already dating and being taken advantage of by Ted – doing his laundry and grocery shopping, making dinner and coffee. He won't kiss her in public, ditches her, and pretends he has other lady friends before taking out his jealously on the air when Mary sets up Georgette on other dates. It's fascinating to see how a new person changes the tight knit character dynamics as Rhoda and Mary help Georgette realize that even if she really likes Ted, she deserves respect. She understands that she's a damn nice person but Ted's going to hear about it in between their pillow fights and them talking about him. She isn't his baby or cookie, just Georgette, and rather than leaving Ted as a one trick anchorman, her introduction makes him grow up and become able to say he loves her because she wants to say it back.

News writer Murray L. Slaughter keeps track of the one hundred and fourteen times Ted has bothered him and drinks scotch while watching the news with Lou – until the scotch runs out and they switch to bourbon. Although he dislikes Mary checking his copy because he messes up his I before E except after C, Murray is totally dejected to learn how much less he makes then Ted, who he thinks is a one hundred and sixty five pound vegetable doing their news when a turnip would do better. At times he doesn't have a lot to do beyond writing Ted memos telling him to turn the page over for the rest of the news, but Murray provides some sweet shade – a little seated commentary in the corner of the frame beside Ted, who he says is still upset over the cancellation of My Mother the Car, the much reviled series also from Mary Tyler Moore creators Allan Burns and James L. Brooks. Once a compulsive gambler, Murray promises Joyce Bulifant as his wife Marie he's given it up, but when he finds out Ted doesn't know what “a kind” is, Murray can't resist a hand. Fortunately, he has a bag of nickels handy to pay back what he owes Ted and fairs better playing chess with Mary during lunch. In his usual late season spotlight “Murray Faces Life,” Murray falls into a deep depression after a schoolmate wins a Pulitzer prize. He ditches work and goes to the movies and feels unneeded – forty years old with nothing to show for it but terrible work, poor pay, and a boring home. Frank conversations address why it's okay to be in a funk as his concerned friends keep the awkwardness lighthearted thanks to a night on the town with Ted and his fluffy puppet. Housewife neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom also lives veraciously through single, working Mary, thinking any affront to Mary is an affront to all womankind. She insists Mary is obligated as a woman to take any advancement or opportunity that comes her way so she can go to the next plateau with her. Phyllis takes creative moment classes with birth of a flower and ode to spring meditations and remains a progressive parent – letting her daughter have supposedly boy racing toys rather than dolls or kitchen sets because there's no difference except girl toys' intentions to prepare women to be housewives. Ecology is also more important than vanity, however she does miss her admittedly fake fur coat. Of course, landlord Phyllis doesn't bother with flickering electric or no firewood during a snowstorm, and Leachman is referred to more than seen with only four appearances this season. Though she's excited for Rhoda's transformation, Phyllis still brings some insults, bragging about her own beauty contest win and performing her song and dance talent. Sadly, Phyllis didn't go to her own prom, but told her parents she did – dressing up and sending herself a corsage before going to the movies and crying herself to sleep. It's a tender moment providing brief insight into why Phyllis is the way she is, and it's delivered perfectly by Leachman. Lisa Gerritsen is growing up as her daughter Bess, and her teen boyfriend is crushing on Mary in “It Was Fascination, I Know.” He's a seemingly well mannered boy claiming to be interested in news and the school paper, but a day at WJM is just an excuse to shadow Mary before breaking up with Bess via a twenty questions game. She's not that upset, but this cute little episode perhaps should have focused more on her wondering about dating and a girl in school who has big...sweaters...alongside some more risque innuendo.

Of course that aforementioned no divorce series premise means we never get to see Dick Van Dyke on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but his brother Jerry Van Dyke visits as a writer for Chuckles the Clown in “But Seriously, Folks.” After being fired by Chuckles for his latest ideas and his own aspirations as a comedian, a lighter side news audition also turns disastrous and further complicates a budding romance with Mary. It's a singular performance by Van Dyke with bad luck and an embarrassing stand up comedy routine in a bowling alley, however we have some likewise exceptional performances from our regulars complete with riotous rest room tears only made better by the follow up episode in Season Four. Despite occasional older credits, syndication cuts, or episodes perhaps being out of production order, new clips in the opening credits help bring Year Three into the seventies vogue alongside long skirts, empire dresses, turtlenecks, wide collars, fancy belts, flared pants, and long vests. Corduroy, capes, pocket squares, ugly ties – the colorful red, orange, and yellow is a bit much when the stripes, plaid, paisley, tie dye, and gingham mix together. Painstaking coffee makers and guest apartments tricked out with green, brown, and ferns add to the old seventies bar sets with red lights and wood paneling, for locations are still somewhat defined as the feminine at home and the leather man's place. Women wear scarves to cover their hairdos and operators break into the phone calls while simplistic maps, big cameras, hefty monitors, old tape recorders, and giant microphones dress the station. We also get a glimpse of the apartment house stairs as well as that elusive fourth wall in Mary's apartment. She may not understand that seats behind second base are really center field and not that good, but hey they were $12, and she knows what a woman is expected to do if she wants to get comp tickets from the WJM sportscaster. Pencils, clipboards, typewriters, and the Rolodex complete the nostalgia alongside other slider viewers and newsroom thingamajigs. I love the long nightgowns and ruffles as they remain somewhat fashionable, but going to the record to store to listen to the records but not buy them is probably a joke lost on today's viewers. That new car has air conditioning and a newfangled cassette deck, too!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season Three is thoroughly seventies in style, innocence, and nostalgia. However, the award winning, sophisticated single lady comedy is as progressive, fresh, and modern as it is wholesome for the today's family. The Mary Tyler Moore Show makes you feel wiser in our Minneapolis time well spent thanks to intertwining characters and groundbreaking dilemmas that raise the bar for sitcom standards.

22 December 2019

Religious Discourse and Documentaries

Religious Discourse and Documentaries
by Kristin Battestella

These documentaries and series provide friendly starting points on broad biblical subjects as well as high concept theology and religious supposition.

Beasts of the Bible – This 2010 documentary starts off with unnecessary ominous and eerie foreshadowing alongside laughable CGI and animated critters crawling across the screen. An endearing host, animals, or zoo locations would have been better than the redundant prologue and slithering titles padding the run time. Fortunately, expert demonstrations, aquariums, and specimens in jars are more fun amid the medieval bestiaries, alternate scriptures, and scholars debating if the tempting serpent in the Garden of Eden had legs. Modern animal authorities showing lizards, boa constrictors, and monitors are far better than fake visuals as poison salamanders, prehistoric predators, skeletal evidence, and evolutionary changes make the reptilian connections. Moses' staff may have been a snake, too, however his brother Aaron's rod is describe as turning into a “tannin”– Biblical shade taking digs at Pharaoh, Egyptian gods, and the Nile crocodile. Archaeology and ancient ruins help investigate crocodile mummies stuffed with relics while Hebrew scholars compare Greek translations and original etymology to clarify the insects featured in the Ten Plagues. Frogs and locust, sure, but also gnats and mosquitoes rather than lice, dangerous swarms instead of just flies, and potentially killer bacteria like anthrax causing those infamous boils. The science does jump the fantastic shark with mermaid talk when suggesting Philistine temples to Dagon and half-man, half-fish gods were just manatees, seals, or sea lions conflated with myths and mistranslation. Was Jonah and the Whale really a mega mouth shark or merely metaphors for maritime constellations? Some of these Old Testament animal tales are more famous than others, but intriguing creatures such as unicorns, griffons, satryrs, and giants are missing. There's no mention of Noah's Ark, and the hippopotamus as the behemoth or oar fish as sea monsters and leviathan feel tacked on in the final twenty minutes before abruptly ending with cherubs, eagles, and Ezekial visions. The hyperbolic voiceover often negates the interesting theories presented, and embellishments or dated visuals waste precious minutes – every encounter has to have some kind of secret, shocking revelation. This Animal Planet presentation ends on unknown horrors and “Here be dragons” winks when the subject matter is entertaining enough to be a longer series. Fortunately, although the live feeding snakes may scare younger viewers, this eye catching style can be fun for kids who like creepy crawlies.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Voices from the Desert – There are so many old Dead Sea Scrolls documentaries streaming that I had to make sure this wasn't the same one I reviewed previously. Though dated 2016, this hour is obviously older, too, thanks to large computers, then new database analysis, and sharing the high resolution photographs or documentation on CD – recent academic strides nonetheless after decades of painstaking restoration work and study opportunities only open to a select few. Vintage newsreels of the discovery reiterate the history alongside fears and conspiracies that always seem to come in Dead Sea Scrolls discourse, and aerial views of the Qumran ruins and on location cave scientists better explain how the harsh climate helped preserve the documents. Carbon 14 proof pinpoints the first century when but not why as interviews with both Hebrew and Catholic scholars dissect the language, scriptures, and incomplete text. Varying language, penmanship, and reconstruction is not without controversy, however, as touching up the text or attaching fragments requires interpretative decisions. NASA imaging replacing infared mid-century photographs and new satellite technology reveal an elaborate Dead Sea complex while DNA sampling can help match texts from the same hide. Rather than the back and forth discovery history, the second half here improves with recent publications and academia studies detailing the Scrolls' contents – Community Rule for the Sons of Light, scriptorium organization, and obsessions with purification in spirit, ritual baths, and precious desert water. Special clay jars, sundials, and hasty construction suggests the Essenes knew what they were doing was for posterity even if their excessive military preparation failed at Roman hands – leaving no one to tell us about the wither tos and why fors. Although this doesn't really share anything new to those familiar with the Scrolls and doesn't have time to get in depth with all the angles it presents, this hour remains a good introductory piece or classroom starter and springboard to individual research.

How Jesus Became God – This 2014 twenty-four episode Great Courses lecture presented by the University of North Carolina's Bart D. Ehrman posits whether Jesus was divine or merely a dissonant rabbi prophet against Rome teaching to love god and your neighbor as yourself. The historical versus theological questions begin with earlier godly and human relationships – Roman gods, humans becoming revered in Greece, and elevations in Ancient Judaism alongside other miraculous births, Appollonius of Tyana, Nephilim, immortals, and mortals with magical children. From gods becoming human or coming down in the garden to call Adam and others elected as deified like Romulus or Julius Caesar to angels and Satan; the Old Testament is also rampant with all manner of intermingling between man and gods. While some lectures are broad, others are specifically focused on Genesis, Job, and the pyramid of divine hierarchy – a demimonde of saintly or fallen movement with which pagans were accustomed. “Son of God” and “Sons of God” were ironically common phrasing in early Jewish texts, and onscreen notations break down Jesus' ministry, his disciples, and the gentile spread thanks to the polytheistic ease in believing a man made god. Not believing in his resurrection means the Jesus movement would have remained a small sect of Judaism, so the question isn't necessarily whether he was or was not God but how early Christians themselves perceived Jesus. Paul's letters vary amid Trinity confusion and one god separating his divine partiality thanks to hypostatis and the personification of God's Wisdom or Word. Jesus' own ministry was about preparing for God's coming kingdom, not his own divinity, and the reverence came from others bowing down to a suffering messiah created after the fact. Crucifixion would seem to be a failure if not for the resurrection – whether he rose from the dead or not is almost beside the point because the spread of the belief in Christ's resurrection and the visions after his death are what spurred the Jesus movement to change history. The discourse, however, does get redundant in the middle – how many times can one say denominations bend the scripture to fit their beliefs? – and debating the fifty years plus between the crucifixion and the gospel writings is more interesting, combing Acts and Romans for earlier quotes and possible Q references common in the early movement but distorted like a game of telephone by time the New Testament was gathered. Exhalations of Jesus as the Son of God were adopted at the resurrection, but later ideologies move his divinity backward – his baptism, at birth, all eternity, existence at the beginning with God. Which is the truth when the gospels themselves present multiple cases? Docetism, Ignatius, non-canonical books, and disparate texts in the first and second centuries allowed for multiple points of view including Marcion ideas on the appearance of Jesus as a human rather than a bodily being and Gnosticism versus sacrifice. Despite Christianity originally being much more diverse, orthodox worship was ultimately dominated by Rome and the founding of the Catholic church, leading to persecutions for different beliefs before Constantine's conversion and Council of Nicea declarations creating today's somewhat more harmonious tradition. Had he not been raised from the dead, Jesus would have been a historical footnote about a prophet who's predictions failed, and at times the narrative favors Josephus and history over the spiritual, but our professor also admits that history is woefully inaccurate. Although confusing for a new believer and the deeply religious may balk at the idea of examining Jesus' divinity, this is nothing to be threatened by thanks to detailed timelines and texts breaking down fascinating first century sources. Should proving theories, scholars, or miracles one way or the other change what you believe? No, and this series remains a provocative supplement recounting historical facts as well as theological ideologies past and present for the faithful scholar or a higher education study.


Who Wrote the New Testament? – This 2016 two hours plus doesn't need opening re-enactments, scripture quotes, and famous lines montages bloating the time; the viewer is already here for the Word of God analysis, who collected the Twenty-Seven New Testament works, and the conflicts over which letters, gospels, and accounts to include. Why is there no definitive account of Christ? Why do no original manuscripts remain – just copies of copies written decades later in Greek? Despite the tantalizing opportunities, this documentary is all over the place to start with Mount Sinai monasteries, stolen documents, and arid preservation setting the scene with great on location tours and rituals but showing precious little on site researchers, modern cataloging, digital opportunities, and fellow academics. Non-canon texts such as Epistles from Barnabas and Clement or Thomas and Mary gospels help reveal the risk of following Jesus, his inevitable outcome in standing up to Rome, and the danger in following him to record his ministry – leaving oral traditions to carry the story when so many were illiterate. It takes over twenty minutes for all this background before we get to discrepancies and enigmas in Mark and how easy it is for later scribes making choices or transcription mistakes to change locations or verses. Matthew's account bridges the Jewish history of early Christianity while prolific Luke's Gospel and Acts of the Apostles take up a quarter of the New Testament to spread the Jesus Movement to the gentiles. Rumors of Luke's decapitation and burial in Padua are tested with exhumed bones, DNA analysis, and matching the skull to the body – fascinating stuff that is bizarrely tossed in here with less time spent on the purported Q source gospel and parchment pieces from John's Gospel. Odd editing makes it seem as if this was part of a larger series now condensed into one special, for the narrative is terribly haphazard in postulating one generic, problematic, or science related aspect to the scripture before dropping it in favor of Hitler's disturbing Bible translations. I was not expecting to see Holocaust footage when I tuned in nor Protestant Reformation scandals or Mary Magdalene gossip. The fast moving meandeing can't cover its own topic – lumping the New Testament Letters together for a few moments before splitting hairs over the controversies within them instead. James and Jude earn a mention before going back to Paul amid circumcision, pagans, and a throwaway line wondering which epistles Paul really penned or not. All this is thrown at the screen in the first hour alone, and I zoned out after that. If you are studying a particular part of the New Testament, this is really only worth the matching sampling if you can find it, for this is a thematic mess that ultimately never does what it says on the tin.