March 28, 2020

CBS All Access with Picard, The Good Fight and Evil

The Good Fight, an exclusive streaming spin-off series from The Good Wife was what got me to sign up for CBS All Access initially, but the catalogue has much more programming that might be of interest.

Initiated as a streaming service October 2014, CBS All Access has original programming, day later availability of CBS network broadcasts and vintage tv series like Twin Peaks, Cheers, CSI:Miami, Frasier, Taxi, Happy Days, I Love Lucy, Perry Mason and even Gunsmoke.

This is trekkie central for those who like the various versions of Star Trek since its debut in the 1960s. Being a Kate Mulgrew fan, I am currently watching Star Trek: Voyager. But then again, I could choose from Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Short Treks, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: The Animated Series. Patrick Stewart has signed on to reprise his role as starship commander Jean-Luc Picard in the 8th Star Trek series, Picard which premiered on CBS All Access in January 2020.

You can even bounce between old series and their new versions like Hawaii Five-O or MacGyver.

Current well-reviewed comedies include Young Sheldon, The Unicorn and Mom. Alas, the entire series of The Big Bang Theory is not available on CBS All Access.

I do have two “guilty pleasure” dramatic series on the CBS streaming service, the cancelled Salvation and Evil, a fantasy created by Michelle King and Robert King who gave us The Good Wife and The Good Fight. Hey, I can’t live by PBS alone.

The streaming world is a huge smorgasbord and for now, I am sampling the fare at CBS All Access. For simplicity’s sake, I added the channel to my Amazon Prime Video package. As famed CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”

https://www.cbs.com/all-access/

Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO

Call it comedy heresy but I never really got into the television series, Seinfeld when it was on network tv from 1989 to 1998. When I read that co-creator Larry David had a new sitcom, I avoided even checking out one episode, assuming that the humor would be similarly lost on me.

A friend recently suggested I give a chance to Curb Your Enthusiasm, now in its tenth season on HBO. Quelle surprise! Episode 1, Season 1 had me roaring with laughter. Subsequent episodes in Season 1 provided me with at least one belly laugh per show. I must admit that I have been lured into the comedic realm of Larry David.

Playing a version of himself, David displays rapier wit, blurts ill-advised comments and holds firm on quirky habits and rules that get him into layer upon layer of trouble. He’s a misanthrope, but a lovable, funny one.

The series is reminiscent of the Jackie Gleason Show in that David has an “Alice,” a patient, smart, eye-rolling wife, Cheryl David, played by comedic actress Cheryl Hines.

Hines’ early work with the Groundlings, an LA improvisational group, has served her well. Surprisingly, much of the brilliant dialogue on Curb Your Enthusiasm is improvised. As a side note, Hines was introduced to her current husband, Robert Kennedy Jr. by co-star David.

Running characters like Hines, Richard Lewis as himself, or Jeff Garlin playing David’s agent, Jeff Greene give an ensemble feel to the show. Guest stars Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis Dreyfus making cameo appearances add to the fun.

You just may want to catch Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO if you, like me, were initially immune to its charms. One season down. Nine to go. I wonder how many much-needed laughs that will be?

The Vertical Line on MHZ – Italian tv series

MHZ Choice, the tv streaming service, continues to introduce me to European television programs that I can’t find other places. The Vertical Line, an 8 episode dramedy from Italy is the freshest series I have seen in quite a while.

The cancer ward of an Italian public hospital seems like an unlikely place for a television show meant as entertainment, but each brief episode packs a punch of deep emotional truths and yes, comedy.

The main character, Luigi, played by the expressive-eyed Valerio Mastrandrea, is a devoted fortyish husband and father of a young child with a baby on the way. He tragically finds out he has a cancerous tumor that must be surgically removed.

He becomes part of an oncology ward where he encounters quirky patients, blasé doctors, aggressive nurses and med-techs and a morose hospital chaplain.

The show is semi-autobiographical in that the creator, Mattia Torre passed away on July 2019 at the age of 47 after experiences with the Italian medical establishment. As his tv swan song, Torre depicts joy and humor in The Vertical Line, as well as sadness in this excellent limited-run series.

If you want something completely different from American medical shows, check out The Vertical Line currently streaming on MHZ Choice. As a reminder, you can add MHZ Choice to your Amazon Prime Video package or sign up for the stand-alone app. It is worth every penny of the monthly $7.99 or $89.99 for the year.

https://watch.mhzchoice.com/

Songwriter Tom Lehrer: Biting Wit and Deep Thoughts

Over the years, I would hear mention of the name Tom Lehrer as this legendary songwriter of irreverent and topical tunes such as Poisoning Pigeons In the Park, The Vatican Rag, or National Brotherhood Week. Nor can one forget Buddy Charles’ stupendous rendition of Masochism Tango or the droll Hannukah in Santa Monica, a non-Christian holiday standard.

Lehrer’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s included LP sales and writing music for the television show, That Was the Week That Was. Lehrer shifted his focus to teaching academic mathematics and musical theater in the early 1970s at places like MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

He was definitely a man of many interests having worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, enlisting in the military and doing a work stint for the NSA.

His relatively small catalogue of songs is still relevant today. Lehrer is now 91 years old. Isn’t it high time we start a tidal wave of interest in his material? Shame on me because I don’t currently have any of his songs in my repertoire, but hope to rectify that soon.

My friend Lydia Stux gave me this link of Lehrer performing a special concert in Denmark. He has this nerdy charm, with his horn-rimmed glasses and his surprisingly good singing and playing.

Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPmRJIoc2k

Younger on Hulu and TV Land

My current guilty-pleasure tv jones is the comedy series, Younger, broadcast on TV Land but streaming now on Hulu.

The Broadway triple threat, Sutton Foster plays Liza Miller, a 40-year-old New Jersey mother who splits from her husband of two decades to create a new life for herself in Brooklyn. Trying to get a job in publishing as middle-aged mom, long out of the game, proves nigh impossible, so Miller creates a 26-year-old persona who promptly gets an entry level job at Empirical Publishing. Her demanding boss, Diana Trout played by the hilarious Miriam Shor has her schlepping coffee and dry-cleaning.

Her besties include Debi Mazar, an OWL (older wise lesbian) who lets her crash in her artsy loft apartment, and Kelsey Peters, a twenty-something co-worker at the publishing company played by Disney actress/singer Hilary Duff. The men in her life (besides the ex who just can’t let go), are the tall and handsome Peter Hermann cast as the middle-aged owner of the publishing house, Charles Brooks and Josh, a 26-year-old tattoo artist hipster played by the buff ink-decorated Nico Tortorella.

Her 40-year-old self frequently collides with her new mid-twenties life as she valiantly switches clothing, speech and demeanor to suit the situation. I learn something new about pop culture and slang with every episode. (What IS a meme?) Thanks to interesting side characters and a plot that keeps evolving, this is no one joke sit-com.

The episodes are 21 minutes long so binge-watching two or three episodes in a sitting is a little too easy. Season 6 was made available on Hulu June 12, 2019. You won’t always buy the improbable situations, but this is the perfect fluff when your brain cells don’t need too much of a work-out.

You might also get to see some theater-heavy guest stars like Kristin Chenoweth, Martha Plimpton, Christian Borle, Laura Benanti, Kathy Najimy, Camryn Manheim and Lois Smith.

Crazy Rich Asians Book and Movie

Book clubs have been caught up in Kevin Kwan fever with his trilogy of novels, Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times used the adjectives “snarky,,, wicked… funny” in her review. “Escapist” is the word I would use. Who doesn’t want to imagine what being a billionaire is like with private jet travel, unlimited shopping budgets and eye-poppingly lavish parties for one’s friends and family?

Rachel Chu unwittingly starts dating the fabulously wealthy heir to a Singapore fortune. She thought her boyfriend was merely a fellow middle class college professor in New York. A visit to his home country quickly makes it clear that his family and social set do not consider her “wealthy Asian” enough for their handsome financial prince.

After a successful run in theaters, Crazy Rich Asians, the movie, is currently streaming on several web platforms. The film does a decent job of capturing the humor and lightness of the first book making it the perfect weekend entertainment after a hard week at the salt mines. We get to see the Asian one percent frolic which gives another layer of escapist exoticism.

A literary devotee sniffed that the writing was not very good, but I say, that is not the point. A soap opera plot, interesting characters and a foreign setting are the selling points in both the three books and the one film. There will always be high demand for movies and novels that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Bring on the caramel corn and fizzy blush wine.