Sunday, October 28, 2007
BLOODY GOOD TIME
About nine years ago, there was a little TV show on cable about a Jersey mob boss who killed with brutality but who also had a wife and kids, anxiety attacks and bills to pay. THE SOPRANOS caught our attention because it attempted to balance the mythology of the mob with the reality of daily life and how real people could balance their everyday activities and emotions with an almost Grand Guignol mode of operation. How to survive in a life of almost operatic proportions and yet keep your footing as a human being on a day-to-day basis captivated us for almost ten years, up until the very---
(Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Of course, there really are such things as mobsters, and THE SOPRANOS was (we're told) the closest thing to real life as has ever been done on television. (Marty Scorsese, we hardly knew ye.)
Now that's mobsters, not monsters.
But what if monsters, particularly vampires, really existed among us? They have a lot of bad press and a nasty rep to overcome, not to mention zillions of books, movies, legends. They are "the undead" who feed on blood, usually human blood, sleep in coffins by day and roam by night, and basically suck parasitically off the human race. Of course, they have perks like speed, heightened senses, superhuman strength and, oh, yes, they never age. And in recent years, thanks to Anne Rice, they more resemble Calvin Klein models than Bela Lugosi.
And what if you did a similarly landmark series about the real vampires among us in modern L.A.? What you might come up with--possibly--is the strangely appealing MOONLIGHT (on CBS, Fridays at 9 pm).
Okay, it's not a David Chase production and it lacks the gravitas of James Gandolfini et la famiglia. But following the increasingly stupid GHOST WHISPERER (and preceding the ever- shrivelling NUMBERS), MOONLIGHT is a charming little divertisement/romance that explores a growing friendship between a handsome private eye, Mitch St. John (Alex O'Loughlin) and a plucky female Internet reporter, Beth Turner (Sophia Myles). Beth actually gets Mitch to share details of his life with her--how he was unexpectedly "turned" at age 30 by his new bride on their wedding night, and how new vampires must be mentored to peacefully co-exist with humans right away or else they can become feral terrorists who threaten the human population while embarrassing and endangering the secret existence of their fellow undead colleagues. (There's even a covert "clean up squad" of vampires, the fixers who make sure the messes made by renegade vampires is neatly covered up.) Not all vampires fall in line--just as there are humans who behave badly--and Mitch, a rather good private investigator in any event, is particularly sensitive to vampires behaving badly and has very particular aims in re-claiming them to the fold. You see, Mitch still really rather likes human beings, due to a surprising episode with a child some years ago, and now Beth has arrived in his life without judgment or disapproval (but already spoken-for by a rather nice human boyfriend) . . . His vampire friends, who also operate effectively undercover in the human social whirl, tease him for his prissy proclivities but seemingly side with him and pride themselves in their abilities "to pass" without detection. To expose their primal instinct and behavior to mortals would be gauche, an embarrassment. But for Mitch, to find trust in a human like Beth, is surest sign that his life's work is not in vein . . . so to speak.
O'Loughlin and Myles are appealing to watch and are capable actors with a palpable chemistry. (But speak of underground cults and vampires, what IS it with all these non-American actors playing Americans on American TV? O'Loughlin's Australian, Myles is British. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but on BROTHERS & SISTERS, the remarkable Rachel Griffiths plays American Sarah Walker without being detected as an Aussie (as she did on SIX FEET UNDER) and Brit Matthew Rhys plays gay brother Kevin. THE BIONIC WOMAN, an all-American archetype is being played by young British actress Michelle Ryan. On Chuck, all-American CIA agent/love interest Sarah Walker (yes, another Sarah Walker) is played by another Australian, Yvonne Strahovski. Christ, Hugh Laurie is a limey-bastard as the pain-in-the-ass American curmudgeon, Dr. Gregory House! These actors are just wonderful, mind you, but this is becoming an epidemic!)
But back to MOONLIGHT. It has a great after-midnight look and feel, edgy editing, good underscoring and fast-paced direction. Ron Koslow, one of its creators, has mined this dual-mythology landscape before with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and knows how to give us a romance with just the right undercut to keep it fun and just short of sappy. It may not be the stuff of cutting-edge TV drama--I believe no one else will be comparing MOONLIGHT with THE SOPRANOS this season--but as escapist entertainment, one could do far worse.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
ANYONE YOU LOVE ON FOUR LEGS?
A recent edition of ABC's Nightline concentrated on the relationship Americans have with their pets, spending billions of dollars on food, pet care products, toys and now surgeries and medical procedures. Those who think from their wallets may say it's just a pet, why spend the money for treatment? What a waste. Obviously, these are people who have never bonded with a pet.
Dogs, cats, birds and other animals may not be as convoluted or complex as we are--at least, as far as we know (or as far as they have revealed themselves to us). But for relatively little, they give back so much--affection, companionship, loyalty, love. It is not all that rare to hear the tail, er, tale of a housepet who alerted a family to a house fire or did what they could to protect the baby from an attacking wild animal. When a family member is ill, the family pet will frequently stay bedside, patiently providing any support or comfort they can without complaint. (Dogs trained as assistants for the physically disabled seem to not only do their jobs but enjoy them as well.) And who is a better, more patient listener, understanding instinctively that when you love someone, being there is more important than passing judgment or forcing a conclusion. Animals can provide the type of love we frequently fail to bring to the table as humans. But just as importantly, the honesty of communion with a pet is an elevating experience, a connection in its purest, most uncomplicated form.
In New York City, the animal shelters deserve support for the food, leashes, grooming and housing facilities they provide to take care of these creatures who, for one reason or another, have found themselves abandoned or in trouble. Yet city fiscal budgets being what they are, many of these shelters are woefully under-funded. Playwrights for Pets, founded by Sue Yocum, is an organization that raises money for shelters that, in turn, serve animals in need. As written up in the national publication, Animal Companion, PFP gives theater artists a chance to use their skills while raising money that will be used to help an animal (who in turn helps many a human). Recent benefits for Animal Haven, for example, have raised funds that helped rescue abandoned pets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and have gone towards the new Animal Haven SoHo, a combination shelter/adoption agency/training space, where pets are not only matched up with owners but where the appropriate care, training and education is provided to ensure a positive, long-lasting relationship between pets and their humans.
On Monday, October 22nd, Playwrights for Pets will present another wonderful evening of original, humorous plays performed by a crackerjack cast--IN TRANSIT: Six Plays that take place in Motion! Those of you who've come to our other evenings know that the plays are usually delightful, the actors delicious, the setting (Baruch's Performing Arts Center in the Recital Hall) highly comfortable and attractive and the post-show wine-shmuzathon reception divine! For those of you who haven't attended, it's a delightful evening (an hour for the reading and what-you-will for the reception), with all of the $10 proceeds going to Animal Haven, the wonderful no-kill shelter that provides food, care and adoption opportunities for dogs and cats in need.
A reading of short plays that take place in motion
Jim Dalglish, Bill Dudley, Ron Frankel, Griffin Miller,
Susan Shafer, Judd Lear Silverman & Sue Yocum
Kaseem Bristow, Erin Cronican*, Elizabeth Gee, Laura Gillis*,
Jonna McElrath*, John Moss* & Dana Watkins*
Monday, October 22, 2007 at 7:30 pm
BPAC - Baruch Performing Arts Center
"an incubator for the arts"
55 Lexington Ave @ 25th Street (btwn Lex & 3rd Aves)
Reservations: call 718-768-4213 or email email@example.com
Donation Requested: $10 • Baruch ID: no donation required
Running time approximately 1 hour • www.playwrightsforpets.com • www.animalhavenshelter.org
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
THE SEASON UNFOLDS . . . and unfolds . . .
Well, it takes a while to let all those shows return and debut, even as we continue to drool over the twists and turns of such summer nail-biters as DAMAGES (Tuesdays, 10 pm, FX). Glenn Close signed a multi-year contract, gang--so clearly they're not gonna kill her or send her to the Big House. Anyone else, on the other hand, would seem to be fair game--but who will it be?!
Three weeks in, CHUCK (Mondays, 8 pm, NBC) remains inventive, fast & funny, a joyful exercise with Zachary Levi making a sympathetic and rather charming nerd.
DANCING WITH THE STARS (Mondays, 8 pm, ABC; results shows, Tuesdays, 9 pm) is still enormously entertaining--and the level of performance has been unusually high from the start. Hard to predict who will take home the trophy at this point . . .
ABC seems to be taking the lead with a wide range of offerings, from the ridiculous to the sublime. (Have you noticed there have been no commercials or promos for MEN IN TREES, which starts on Friday? Not a single picture or commercial--what's that about? Are they sorry they committed to bringing it back? Will they burn it off right away? They've stuck it at Friday at 10 pm, one of the most notoriously difficult time slots.)
CAVEMEN (Tuesdays, 8 pm, ABC) is, sadly, just dull. Afraid of being too allegorical, the pilot show was re-shot to take out an overload of prejudice jokes. But why do a show about heavily made-up cavemen if you're NOT going to look humorously at being out of sync with the rest of America? (That was, after all, the thrust of the Geico campaign that spawned the show.) The unrecognizable actors have appeared on everything from THE VIEW to DANCING WITH THE STARS in character, responding to real-life stimuli, and were quite quick-witted and funny (especially Nick Kroll), but the actual first show was tentative, stiff and bland. Give these guys something to work with stronger than basic male dating problems, folks--the joke that all men are basically no better than cavemen is kinda tired.
DIRTY SEXY MONEY (Wednesdays, 10 pm, ABC) is neither especially dirty or sexy, but clearly this cast (Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, William Baldwin) costs a lot of money. An idealist lawyer follows in his father's footsteps to become the attorney for a family of very questionable morals and behavior. Spoiled people behaving badly--c'mon, folks, unless there's something new or honest to say, do we need another program telling us that rich people are unhappy, too?
PUSHING DAISIES (Wednesdays, 8 pm, ABC) At last, something new!!! The power of life-and-death (and all the ethical questions that ensue) gets whimsical and humorous treatment with this visually-splendid, fast-paced comedy. Scripts are sharp and imaginative, with bite and panache. Ned, the hapless hero who also bakes pies for a living, has the power to bring people (and pets) back to life and then has one minute to decide whether or not to send them back to Death Valley, all with a mere touch. If he touches them again, they return to death forever. If he doesn't touch them within the minute, someone else in proximity dies in their place. It's a quirky concept, but it's pulled off with great, gleeful abandon. And the cast is priceless: Kristin Chenoweth, Chi McBride, Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Greene, top off-beat professionals all, performing with enormous precision and detail. But none of this would work if it weren't for the superb anchoring performance of stage veterans Lee Pace and Anna Friel as star-crossed lovers who are re-united but simply can't touch! They are genuinely warm, attractive presences, cute but not never cloying or cutesy. Kudos to creator Bryan Fuller for risking an unsavory topic in order to create such a unique treat--sweet-and-sour rarely tastes this good! For once, a show that lives up to its hype!