tv 2016: americans through atlanta

Much of what follows over the next several days will be re-posts of what I've written during the year, although the first entry is all new.

The Americans. I haven’t written much about this show over the years, for no apparent reason, since if it’s not the best show on TV, it’s in the top two. There have been four seasons, with two to go, so you have plenty of time to catch up. The premise is intriguing: in the early 1980s, we follow the Jennings family, a typical American nuclear family except Mom and Dad are secretly Soviet spies. This angle never gets old, but what raises The Americans above pretty much every other show on the air is that the premise isn’t even the main reason to tune in every week. The ongoing story of the Jennings is the key, and Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell have been great since day one. As spies, they are required to manipulate others ... Rhys’ “Philip” even marries another woman who is the secretary for an important FBI supervisor. Philip and “Elizabeth” take different approaches to their jobs ... Philip comes to appreciate life in the USA more than Elizabeth does. They also find themselves becoming closer as a couple, having been originally assigned each other. There are a number of other fine actors, especially Noah Emmerich as an FBI agent who moves in across the street from the Jennings, and Margo Martindale as one of the Jennings’ handlers. Luckily, the show has a winner in Holly Taylor, who plays Philip and Elizabeth’s teenage daughter, Paige. Teenage characters are often annoying, but Taylor has grown with her role, and been given more to do as a result. One interesting plot twist is that Paige discovers religion, which really pisses her Communist mother off. Meanwhile, the violence on the show is occasion, but often brutal, even in arguably the most romantic moment of the entire series, when Philip has to extract a tooth from Elizabeth, without an anesthetic. One of the only undisputed “A” shows on television today.

Angie Tribeca.Angie Tribeca, like its spiritual father Police Squad, is so relentless is its destruction of clichés that it’s hard to watch an ordinary show after seeing an episode of Angie. Things that aren’t supposed to be funny on something like Supergirl remind you of something similar on Angie Tribeca that was supposed to be funny, and you end up laughing inappropriately.”

Ash vs. Evil Dead. “Perhaps the easiest TV series in history to evaluate. If you like the Evil Dead movies, you will like this show. If not, you won’t. And I suppose if you’ve never even heard of the Evil Dead movies, you won’t like this either. This is possibly the goriest show we’ve ever seen on TV, which is right in line with the movies (if for some reason you aren’t up to date, this show is part of the Evil Dead universe, taking place after the events of Army of Darkness). The entire show is over the top, including the gore, which can’t be taken on a serious level ... the inspiration for all of this is the Three Stooges. No one tries to make a case for the Evil Dead universe as meaningful ... it’s just a silly gore fest that has the honesty to know what it is about. Plus, Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless. One of my favorite shows, but if ever the cliché “Your Mileage May Vary” was appropriate, it’s here.

Atlanta. “Might be the best new show in recent times, although it’s erratic. Donald Glover created and stars in it, and he offers a small world that feels real (whether or not it actually is), with characters (and actors) to fill their roles perfectly. This show might get so good in future seasons that we’ll look back on Season One as a mere warm-up, but it stands on its own.”

The Americans Season 4 promo:

Angie Tribeca Season 2 Episode 1 "Hyper Binge"

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 Trailer (NSFW):

Atlanta trailer:


revisiting city lights (charles chaplin, 1931)

It’s been five years now since a few of us spent six months listing our 50 favorite movies. One, Jeff Pike, had City Lights at the top of his list. Jeff was, in fact, the only one of us to list any Chaplin movies (he also had Modern Times at #29). His blog post about the film is worth reading in full. He writes, about the justly-famous ending, “No movie anywhere has a more beautiful ending. At a stroke it opens up the scope wide for everything that movies can do: the reality of human kindness and pathos, cynicism disarmed, and a simple and persuasive case for optimism and hope.”

I’m pretty sure my own deficiencies affect how I see City Lights, and Chaplin in general. A movie has to be great if it is to overcome my preference for films that don’t rely on pathos or disarm cynicism. The problem is mine, not Chaplin’s, but if I can’t be moved by City Lights, I’m a lost cause.

I exaggerate for effect ... I am moved by City Lights. But the Chaplins I love the most ... well, here’s what I’ve said in the past. On The Gold Rush: “One of the nice things about The Gold Rush is that the sappy parts are mostly absent.” Modern Times: “Chaplin’s sentimentality often gets the best of me.” The Great Dictator: “He largely avoids the sentimentalism that has always been my least favorite part of his work.” Even The Kid, which I rank just below his greatest: “Avoids most of what I find annoying about Chaplin ... the sentiment is hard-edged.”

Reading all of this, you can see why my taste preferences make me a poor judge of the greatness of City Lights. For City Lights is the pinnacle of what I don’t care for. I recognize its greatness, but I’d rather watch any of the above-mentioned movies (not to mention half-a-dozen or so Buster Keatons). My favorite parts of City Lights are the comic set-pieces, most notably the boxing match:

And there are multiple classic set-pieces in the film. Add the beautiful, hopeful ending, and you have a top movie that isn’t quite at the top of my own list. #29 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.

(My favorite movies from 1931: Frankenstein and M.)

four days in portland

Considering I arrived on Thursday afternoon and we left on Sunday afternoon, I guess it was really three days spread out over four.

We hadn’t been since 2009. We didn’t do a tour ... you can actually take a Portlandia tour, for instance ... and outside of a trip to Tualatin, about a half-hour’s drive away, we spent the entire time in NE Portland. We weren’t there to take in the sights, we were there to visit an old friend. Still, even with a limited trip, you notice things, mostly about the ways Portland seems different than Berkeley.

First, they aren’t all that different. Much of what gets gently parodied on Portlandia holds just as true for Berkeley. Berkeley might be more pretentious about it, although I can’t really speak to what Portland is like on a daily basis.

Most important, though, is the weather. It was slightly colder than we are used to, but what really mattered was the rain. The Bay Area, at least our part of it, is semi-arid, and of course we’ve been in a drought for a long time now. Portland? Well, in fairness, it rarely poured while we were there. But a drizzle never left us, and in some ways, a constant drizzle is more depressing than a serious downpour.

Another, water connected, difference: there was no clamp on water pressure in our hotel ... the water came blasting out of the shower.

Since we weren’t home for our usual Saturday morning at the Homemade Café, we were glad to find Batter Griddle & Drinkery, which wasn’t nearly as precious as its menu suggested (the pancakes section included “mocha me go”, “don’t passover”, and “pecan do it”). Like many places we checked out, it felt roomy ... there is more land and fewer people in Portland than in San Francisco, although the population of Portland has almost doubled since we first visited.

I didn’t see Corin, Carrie, or Janet anywhere, not that I would have done anything besides mess my pants if I did see them walking around. Oh well, I’ll see them on New Year’s Eve.

Meanwhile, the pilot announced to us before our flight home that we were traveling to "Oaklandia".