June 15, 2019

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.

Game of Thrones Withdrawal Lingers

Nine years ago, I tried to read The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I was overwhelmed with strange names, places and vocabulary. In frustration, I threw the book down, yet continued to watch the HBO tv series with avidity.

In my current throes of Game of Thrones withdrawal, my brother-in-law suggested I try reading book one of the series again. Lo and behold, all of the main characters were now familiar to me so I no longer felt like I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Book one is actually a page-turner. As in any book versus movie adaptation, the prose allows you to get a deeper sense of character, motivations are clearer and the palette of people and place descriptions is much richer and wider. Book Two, A Clash of Kings awaits on my nightstand.

If you have deep pockets and are a rabid R. R. Martin fan, you may want to consider attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, an annual benefit for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. For $1250, you will be invited to a dinner honoring Chicago authors with George R. R. Martin as the special guest, along with U of C poet/essayist Dr. Eve L. Ewing. An acclaimed Chicago author will be at every table.

This is one of the yearly highlights of literary Chicago. Plus, you just might get to meet Martin. He has a B. S. and M. S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism so this is a homecoming, of sorts for him.

A member of SongShop used to play Dungeons and Dragons with Martin, back in the day. The next time you see me, you can guess who this might be!

For now, reading the books is prolonging my obsession with this fantasy series. Let me hope that a Game of Thrones intervention won’t be necessary. Any ideas on the perfect novel antidote?

For information on the Literary Awards Dinner:
https://cplfoundation.org/events/carl-sandburg-literary-awards-dinner/

HBO – More than just Game of Thrones

Just when I was about to cancel my HBO subscription after the Game of Thrones final season, I discovered a few other worthy things to watch on this premium cable channel.

For those of you who have read one or more of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, HBO’s treatment of the first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend may be your small cup of espresso. The eight episode season, in Italian with English subtitles, depicts the friendship between Lila Cerullo and Lenu Greco, two young girls living in 1950s Naples. We get a snapshot of the entire Italian neighborhood including parents, children, teachers and business owners.
Rivalries between families, romantic attachments and even gender discrimination are seen through the eyes of Lenu as she manages her relationship with her brilliant but troubled friend, Lila, in this literate mini-series.

Even darker is the five episode series, Chernobyl which gives an account of the infamous 1986 nuclear reactor accident that occurred in the former Soviet Union. Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson give stellar performances as some of the professionals who try to discover what happened and what actions to take to limit damage to the area and its inhabitants.

The Soviet Union itself is the “bad guy” as officials try to cover up details, sacrifice workers knowing that radiation will kill them and search for the least politically damaging ways to contain the catastrophe.
This is a real life cautionary story that hardly seems 33 years old and has much to say about the current treatment of our environment today.

I give a guarded recommendation for Barry, a very dark comedy vehicle for the singular talents of Bill Hader (8 seasons on SNL) and Henry Winkler (the Fonz on Happy Days). Hader plays Barry Berkman, a contract killer who discovers a love of acting when he is tasked with murdering one of the acting students. Winkler is acting guru, Gene Cousineau who takes Barry under his wing. Stephen Root as Monroe Fuches, Barry’s murder pimp is outstanding, as is Sarah Goldberg as Barry’s actress girlfriend. Anthony Carrigan, he of the bald head and no eyebrows is hilarious as a Chechen crime lord wanna-be.

My reservations in heartily recommending this program stem from the amount of violence seen in every episode. This is the Three Stooges with lots of guns and bloodshed. If that does not put you off, this may be your gallows humor show for the acting alone.

HBO is trying to keep us watching and for now, it just may be succeeding.

Studio 54 documentary on Netflix

If you are intrigued by New York night life of the late 1970s, check out Studio 54 on Netflix. Half buddy flick and half documentary, the film portrays the business and personal relationship between Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager.

The pair opened the famous mid-town Manhattan dance club in 1977 and attracted celebrities such as David Bowie, Bianca and Mick Jagger, Calvin Klein, Michael Jackson, Bette Midler, Elton John and Liza Minnelli, among many others. It was the place to go for disco dancing and liquor, and for those so inclined, drugs and public sex.

The house of cards came tumbling down in 1980 as Rubell and Schrager were sentenced to jail for tax evasion. Rubell subsequently died of AIDS, but Schrager continues to this day to be an entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer. Interviews with Schrager are the heart of the film as he talks about this storied time decades ago.

The documentary features archival footage of the interior decor, the extravagant production effects and the array of revelers disco-dancing the night away.
Ah, for a time machine to take me back one night to Studio 54. The documentary is the next best thing.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2 on Netflix

I am giving a guarded recommendation for the FX incepted true crime drama, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2. My only reservation is the graphic images of violence that linger in the brain long after the nine episodes have been viewed,

The acting is outstanding with bravura performances by Glee-ful actor Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace and Penelope Cruz as Gianni’s sister Donatella. Judith Light, Ricky Martin and Michael Nouri are some of the supporting actors that turn in solid performances.

The production team has opted to tell the story of Cunanan’s murder spree backwards with Versace’s demise in Episode 1. Going back in time, we see him gruesomely dispatch Chicago real estate mogul Lee Miglin and Minneapolis friends in Minnesota. We are introduced to his deceptive Filipino father, his overwhelmed mother and previous sugar daddies. By the time we reach his final chapter in the ninth episode, we have a fuller understanding of what created this monstrous personality.

The scriptwriting, cinematography and general production values are of the highest order. If you can handle the gruesome subject matter, The Assassination of Gianni Versace currently streaming on Netflix might be right up your back alley.

Case Histories on Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime continues to carry many of the best British tv crime series. One such favorite is Case Histories based on the Jackson Brodie novel series by Kate Atkinson. I previously wrote a rave review on Atkinson’s novel Life After Life so she knows her way around writing plot, characterization and dialogue.

Brodie, played by ruggedly handsome Jason Isaacs, acts tough but is drawn to the down-trodden and those with unresolved personal tragedies. The premise may sound conventional, but the crime stories benefit from quirky characters and very high production values. Isaacs, with sidekick Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington), is the centerpiece of the show with his rough exterior and soft-hearted interior.

The show is set and filmed in Edinburgh, Scotland as an added benefit for those enamored with Scottish culture. Sadly, there are only nine episodes over two seasons.
Would that this series have gone on for a few more seasons. Still, you can add Case Histories to your list of worthy Amazon Prime Video crime mysteries.