Network television is famous for programming constructs appealing to the dumb and dumber. Irritating canned laugh tracks. Insipid plots guaranteed to offend no potential sponsors. Dumbed down dialog. Getting marginally better with Alcatraz (Fox- cancelled after one season). Person of Interest and Blue Bloods (both CBS).
But the most talented writers and directors flock to more liberal cable channels in droves, closely followed by discerning viewers. The experiment succeeded beyond the wildest expectations. What followed were amazing classics such as “Deadwood”, “Justified”, “Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad”, “Flashpoint”, “The Closer”, “The Wire”, “The Daily Show”, “Hatfields & McCoys” and others. Well written, well performed, frequently with actors no one ever saw before.
Having tasted blood, Cable TV is maneuvering to focus their viewing audience according to age and specialty interest. Accordingly four new cable dramas worthy of review have emerged.
The Newsroom. (HBO). Sundays 10 pm on HBO.
Newsroom accurately portrays a real cable newsroom, with real newsroom. Well reviewed by none other than Dan Rather. To a degree I have not seen on any visual medium before, they portray the craft and passion of TV journalism as well as the realities of TV business. Albeit with a very “liberal” bent, they lay it all bare. Episodes deal with with how far a commentator must be willing to go to correct an on-screen gaffe (lie), how to beat out the competition to out a domestic disaster (Gabby Gifford’s shooting) and nuts and bolts of handling the bin Laden killing. Jeff Daniels is magnificent as the cable news talking head, ably assisted by Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda.
It’s VERY interesting, and got a good review from none other than Dan Rather:
Highly recommended by me.
“LONGMIRE”. (A & E Channel- final season episode tonight Sunday).
An adult Western along the lines of a very interesting “Jesse Stone (Tom Selleck), which CBS cancelled. The viewers for both these series are all over 50 and mystery buffs looking for intelligent plots and production. Over 50 viewers viewed as worthless by the advertisers who pay the freight at CBS. The math is a little different when you get to cable, though. A similar draw, “Hatfields & McCoys” on The History Channel earned huge ratings and 14 million viewers.
“Longmire” is based on Craig Johnson’s series of mystery novels about small-town Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, played by Australian actor Robert Taylor (faking a credible American accent). Like Jesse Stone, Longmire is a man out of sync with the 21st century — No cell phone, spends a lot of time brooding alone. Following the death of his wife, Longmire’s personal and professional attention to detail falls apart. But over the course of several investigations, Walt starts to find his way back into the world, even if it’s a world that doesn’t always seem to understand an old cowboy like him.
Longmire is a VERY strong series, maintains viewer interest, interesting plots, outstanding supporting cast, great on-location scenery. The progress of each episode can be a little slow and require some getting used to. The title character has texture and grain, he relates to the viewer. Second season renewed for next Winter.
Highly recommended by me.
I have reviewed this series TWICE this year, which gives you hint of how much I like it. I think “Boss” is simply the most incredible series since the gold standard of incredible cable dramas “Deadwood”, which stands alone in the archives. From the opening scenes of Chicago evolving before your eyes accompanied by “Satan, your kingdom must come down” by Robert Plant (see me if you don’t know who Robert Plant is).
“Boss” is a spectacle surrounding Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, a man who understands that his constituents need to be led, but Chicago is a city with many social, economic and ethnic special interests that can’t be controlled with an iron fist. It requires a time-honored mixture of compromise and balance to maintain a functional equilibrium, frequently of a barbarous nature. And a lot of players with their own self interest, including those closest to Kane.
Kelsey Grammer is persuasive as a cunning old-school political bully. The mayor’s henchmen normally enforce his decrees with methods that would make even stone cold Russian Apparatchiks giggle. But the mayor has a devastating secret: a degenerative neurological disease that he hides with the same ruthless guile he uses to cover up all the barbarous manipulations that get things done. Suddenly a man with absolutely power is put in a position where he intermittently cannot tell the difference between real and Memorex.
The result is an absolutely uncompromising, brutal view of an amorphous world held in and out of check by a ruthless leader absolutely without scruples, even dealing with his own family. No one is exempt from his blessings, and no one is safe from his wrath. It’s a riveting drama, textured, and relentless. Kelsey Grammer brings to life an unflinching character lingers in your headspace for days. It’s a beast of a show, the best new drama of this year.
HIGHLY recommended by me. Second season initial episode this Friday night August 17
“Strike Back” (Cinemax).
Started out as a six episode series on the BBC patterned after “24” (Fox). Highly trained British Special Forces special-op soldiers cavorting around creating mayhem behind various enemy lines in the near east. Offers serviceable action scenes, casual depictions of torture and death, and a comic-book conspiracy intrigue combined by the lead character getting lucky on-camera at least once per episode.
Did better than expected and was picked up by Cinemax who decided to join the prime-time drama game played so successfully by its parent, HBO, as well as other pay-cable networks like Showtime and Starz. Cinemax’s decision to pick up this series is a bid to appeal to a young-male audience, taking what it works best (sex) and adding the traditional component, gratuitous violence.
“Strike Back” won’t make anyone forget “24” but it has its pleasures for the aficionado of guns and flesh in exotic locales. There’s something viscerally satisfying about crisp British 007 detachment and cinematic licentiousness.
The production is fast moving and consistently interesting. The characters come alive and their interactions feed the plot. The production and on-location scenery is captivating. The plot is aggressive and not afraid to kill of primary leading men, to replace them in the same episode. It’s a strong production. Third season opening episode this Friday, Aug 17.
Recommended by me.
All the previous episodes are available on Netflix, all the premium cable channel repositories and the Torrents (The Pirate Bay).
DISCLAIMER: There’s no guarantee that future seasons or episodes