Review: Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings

Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings is a set of 8 stories based on songs from Dolly Parton’s past. The stories are unrelated and can be watched in any order. All of them are stories about love and faith and do indeed tug at the heartstrings.

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Watch This: Season 4 Preview and Sneak Peek for Longmire

Longmire was dropped by its old network after 3 seasons and was picked up amid a great fan outburst by Netflix. Season 4 will be starting on Netflix on September 10. In the meantime, you can watch all of the first 3 seasons on Netflix. To quote Longmire, “It’s not that you come back, it’s how you come back that matters.” This comeback was 100% fan driven.

I know Longmire isn’t the type of show I usually promote here. But it is filmed near me and I started watching to see if I could recognize any of the locations. It’s gorgeous scenery – supposedly set in Wyoming but actually filmed near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And there is the fact that I like Katee Sackhoff, so I was watching to see her. However, it took almost no time before I was hooked on all the characters and their stories.

Katee Sackhoff plays Deputy Vic Moretti
Katee Sackhoff plays Deputy Vic Moretti

Robert Taylor is Sheriff Longmire. His deputies are played by Katee Sackhoff as Vic, Bailey Chase as Branch and Adam Bartley as The Ferg. Lou Diamond Phillips is Henry Standing Bear, one of many Native American characters in the show. If you’ve ever read anything by Tony Hillerman, you know how his books treated Native American culture. The mostly Cheyenne people and culture in Longmire are treated with the same kind of respect.

Other cast includes Cassidy Freeman, Louanne Stephens, Gerald McRaney and Ally Walker.

None of the characters are wholly pure, all have demons of their own, including the main characters in the sheriff’s department of this small town. It makes for great story arcs that go on for many episodes. Which is all the more reason to go back and catch up on seasons 1–3 before you start season 4.

One of the multi-episode stories involves the murder of Longmire’s wife, which is what I think the scene in the preview below relates to.

The following teaser is for season 4. You see glimpses of many characters and some of the beautiful Western scenery.

If you’ve never watched Longmire, give it a try. And if you are already a fan of this complex character-driven drama, come celebrate with me on September 10 when we can start watching the 10 new episodes of season 4.

Sharon Stone will star in Agent X on TNT

A 10 episode season of Agent X on TNT will star Sharon Stone as Vice President Natalie Maccabee.

Sharon Stone and Jeff Hephner on the set of Agent X.
Sharon Stone and Jeff Hephner

Here’s the plot setup. Vice President Maccabee moves into the Veep’s mansion and discovers from her Chief Steward (Gerald McRaney) that she is responsible for deploying secret agent John Case (Jeff Hephner) to do things beyond the powers of the FBI or CIA. This top secret agent is hidden from everyone, including the President. The most interesting part of the story description revealed so far is that Maccabee soon finds herself being drawn into the action.

Yes, the Veep runs around with a secret agent and kicks ass. If anyone can do that, Sharon Stone can. It’s exciting to me as an audience member to see so many wonderful women actresses like Stone taking roles on television where they can play interesting parts while thumbing their noses at Hollywood.

My hope for Agent X is that there will be plenty of Sharon Stone and the series won’t be all about Jeff Hephner doing heroic action scenes. There are no previews yet, no Facebook page yet, but it isn’t to reach the air until late in 2015. All that will come in time, so keep an eye out.

Thanks to Liliya for alerting me to this story.

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?