Watch This: Trailer for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

I watched the pilot for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last spring. It was hilarious. I thought it was a sure winner. It’s now set for 2 seasons on Amazon Prime. The first season will debut November 29. I’m looking forward to it. Continue reading “Watch This: Trailer for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

The Dovekeepers

Tonight and tomorrow night, the four-hour mini series The Dovekeepers airs on CBS.

At once epic and intimate, The Dovekeepers is based on the novel by Alice Hoffman about the seige of Masada. Masada was a Jewish stronghold atop a mountain in the Judean desert. The key part of the story involves women whose roles were to care for the doves in a large dove cote.

With food and water available, the Jews at Masada managed to hang on for a very long time, but eventually were overwhelmed. Masada was set upon by Roman armies in 70 C.E. Almost everyone died. The dovekeepers were among the few survivors.

The novel, which told this famous historical tale from the point of view of women, was published in 2011. I read the book and found it excellent, so I have high hopes for this mini series.

Here are previews and interviews about the mini series.

The starring roles are played by Cote de Pablo, Rachel Brosnahan, and Kathryn Prescott as the dovekeepers.

Roma Downey is the executive producer of the mini series.

Images © 2014 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Review: The Blacklist

In the last week or so I watched season 1 of The Blacklist. I got hooked on it and just kept watching. After episode 1, I wasn’t sure I was committed, so I tried episode 2. Before long I decided to watch the whole season.

James Spader in The Blacklist
James Spader in The Blacklist

James Spader stars as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a criminal mastermind who inexplicably turns himself in to the FBI, but only on the condition that he works exclusively with FBI agent Lizzie Keen (Megan Boone). Spader’s performance is outstanding. He has Red Reddington down from the first seconds of episode 1 and plays him with sophisticated grace and depth.

Red’s thing, his deal, is that he has this list of bad guys that he will help the FBI get. He gets immunity for his information, but he only offers information about bad guys that he himself has a reason to want to catch or put out of commission. He calls the shots for a team of federal agents and they run around catching bad guys based on what he tells them. There’s the question of the connection between Red and Lizzie running through every episode.

The Blacklist is an odd combination of the completely obvious plot and the completely surprising and unexpected plot. The characters are never quite what they seem, people’s motives are always questionable, and the action is tense.

Megan Boone in The Blacklist
Megan Boone in The Blacklist

It took me a long time to get attached to the female lead. There are two reasons why this might be. Either Megan Boone plays her character as a stoic personality in control of her own display of emotions, or, Megan Boone is not a particularly nuanced actor. The expression on her face remains the same whether she’s shooting at a bad guy, talking to Red, making love to her husband, or crying over her dying father.

Even though James Spader is the big name, the star, his character is shadowy and mysterious. It’s really Lizzie’s story, her life both inside and outside her work, her marriage, and her early childhood memories. Megan Boone’s lack of affect in this part both put me off and – in later episodes of the season – made me appreciate the internal workings of her investigative mind.

Parminder Nagra is another FBI agent. She is a favorite of mine and I was glad she was in the cast. Gave me a female character that I liked instantly. Her part wasn’t big enough.

Other agents on the team with Lizzie Keen were Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), and Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix). I can never see Harry Lennix without thinking of Dollhouse. His part in this series is very similar to his part in Dollhouse, which contributed to my frequent recollections of the older show.

Megan Boone and Ryan Eggold in The Blacklist
Megan Boone and Ryan Eggold in The Blacklist

Lizzie Keen’s husband is played by Ryan Eggold. A good part of the personal drama for Lizzie involves Red warning her about her husband but her steadfastly believing in her man. Mostly. Maybe he’s a loving husband and fourth grade teacher. Or maybe not.

Interesting recurring characters included Alan Alda as a Senator, Jane Alexander as an FBI higher up, and Rachel Brosnahan as the mysterious Jolene who tries to seduce Lizzie’s husband.

One of the things I like about the show are the sets or locations. I’m not sure how real everything was but there were locations seemingly all over the world. The sets used for the task force and for where the criminals were caught were excellent. I liked the places where Red hung out, I liked Lizzie’s apartment. Outdoor scenes were plentiful and set in interesting places. The action scenes were very well done, too. There were all the requisite gun battles, car crashes, plane crashes, fist fights, knife fights – everything you could want in the way of excitement and action.

Season 2 of The Blacklist begins next week. I’m sure I’ll be watching to see what intricate plots involving criminals get brought into the story, and if Lizzie ever figures out the obvious in relation to who Red is.

Photos by NBC – © 2014 NBC Universal Media

Reflections on House of Cards, season 2

Season 2 of House of Cards appeared on Netflix on Valentine’s Day. If it was meant to be a little billet-doux from Netflix to sweeten up our weekend, it failed the sweetness test. It more than made up for it in the drama department, however.

I want to share my reactions to this series without revealing any spoilers about season 2 while doing it. Overall, season 2 is even better than season 1 – and season 1 is exceptionally good. Here are a few reasons that House of Cards continues to get better.

  • There are fascinating plot twists that keep you on your toes in this story. Not one of the politicians in this tale does a single thing for the good of the country or the people – it’s all about self-interest. It feels realistic and unpleasantly like modern politics. Yes, it feels realistic in the telling, but if you really examine the plot it seems unlikely to ever be reality.
  • The performances by the lead actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood are outstanding.
  • Supporting actors also do an outstanding job. It’s a big cast, because the story is involved.  Every character is important as a piece of the puzzle and every actor gives a credible performance.
  • The look, the mood, the writing, the pace: everything works, everything contributes.
  • A couple of episodes were directed by women, namely Jodie Foster and Robin Wright. A series always earns extra points with me when a woman directs.

The Master Manipulator

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood continues to be ruthlessly ambitious, a manipulator who will do anything to get what he wants. He shares some of his plans and goals with us by talking directly to the camera as he did in season 1. We see a measure of his true self thanks to this device. Other than his wife, most of the people around him have no idea what he’s doing. He’s very convincing.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

In season 1, Claire Underwood was off doing her own thing, but in season 2, this power couple are working more closely together to achieve their joint quest for power. We see deeper into their relationship. House of Cards would still be fascinating if the only plot involved the complex and murky interactions between this couple.

Shared time in a complex marriage
Shared time in a complex marriage

They understand each other, they support each other, and they are committed to getting what they want. They tolerate each other’s foibles and needs and build on each other’s strengths. In some ways it’s a political marriage based on shared ambitions and convenience, but in other ways they love and care about each other.

House of Cards is about much more than a marriage, however. There are themes of good an evil, about power and whether power corrupts, about the end justifying the means, about progress, the common good, the rule of the moneyed class. Mixed in with the big thematic elements there are human stories about the desire for love, the need for sex, and appetites of all kinds.

A Few Supporting Characters

The majority of the supporting characters are ambitious politicians. There are a few journalists, sex workers, security staff, double agents, or others who somehow know too much and could be a danger to the politicians.

These are the supporting players that I found particularly impressive.

Molly Parker as Jackie Sharp
Molly Parker as Jackie Sharp

Molly Parker as House Whip Jackie Sharp is terrific. She’s strong, devoted to her own political ambitions and willing to work with Frank Underwood even though she knows he’s a snake. Her story gets fairly well developed for a supporting part. She gets involved with Remy Denton as part of that development, a choice that might end badly.

Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton
Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton

Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton is someone who is not a politician, but does what he can to influence politics in various ways. He’s an employee of billionaire Raymond Tusk and sometimes is sent to do things he doesn’t really want to do.

Gerald McRaney as Raymond Tusk
Gerald McRaney as Raymond Tusk

Raymond Tusk is played by Gerald McRaney. I have been watching Gerald McRaney on TV for over 40 years, since the early 1970s. I have to admit I’m fond of him. He’s usually a good guy, but here he’s a power junkie with billions at his disposal. He’s fantastic as a villain!

Stamper and Rachel Brosnahan as Rachel Posner
Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper and Rachel Brosnahan as Rachel Posner

Michael Kelly is chilling as Frank Underwood’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper. One of his chores in season 1 was to get the sex worker Rachel Posner out of the view of journalists and make sure no one ever heard from her again. He’s an alcoholic with 14 years of sobriety, but he goes on a crazy “dry drunk” binge over this woman (played by Rachel Brosnahan) and spends his time obsessing about her and following her every move. Her storyline grows more interesting and important with each episode of season 2 as well.

There are many characters I haven’t mentioned because I’m trying not to reveal anything that happens in season 2 that will shock or surprise you. There’s plenty in season 2 that will do that.

Heading into Season 3

Season 3 is a go. As I look at what transpired in season 2 and think about what may happen in season 3, I can’t help but think about a book I read recently called Give and Take by Adam Grant. I reviewed this book briefly in a post on my other blog, Web Teacher. The Machiavellian Frank Underwood is a taker of the highest magnitude. He thinks he’s invulnerable, he thinks everything is in his control, but he makes mistakes. He trusts the wrong people, he does the wrong things, and his empire could topple like a – it must be said – house of cards.

Adam Grant’s premise in Give and Take is that takers eventually fail and fall. Will Frank Underwood?