Sitcoms can be serious too: One Day at a Time…

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Comedy is such a difficult feat at the best of times. You can have a solid ensemble cast and a series of scenarios in which they live, act and stumble, but if the comic dialogue, action and timing is not correct and is not welcomed with the reaction you need and want, the show will suffer. Look at some of the long-running classic sitcoms to grace our screens like Friends or The Big Bang Theory – ten or more seasons, characters that live on and peek into our day-to-day conversation, I mean, there is a friends quote for almost every story or situation. Then you have shows like Baby Daddy and New Girl, which are hilarious in their own rights, but have not had the same effect, the former having been cancelled a few episodes before its current season is to end, and the latter to end after its limited episode seventh season to air later in the year. Comedy is tough to execute, you must have the right characterization, the right scenarios, and most important of all, the consistency to pull it off throughout the season, and future seasons it may or may not have.

So when you throw in some hard-hitting socio-cultural content in the mix, writers have got to have some serious skill to keep audiences attracted to this new age sitcom, or they are just brave and hopeful in their experimentations with a classic form of television. One Day At A Time pushes the boundaries with this classic television show remade and revamped with a fiery Cuban family of three generations; grandmother, mother, and two kids. With jokes, gags and one-liners welcoming audiences into the crazy home of a traditional catholic Cuban abuela, a spunky ex-army turned nurse mother, her 21st century cause of the world ringleader daughter and apple of everyone’s eye tweener son, the show then snatches us away from the standard light heartedness of comedy by lulling us into a false sense of security and dropping huge emotional monologues on us like a tonne of bricks. And it sure as hell grips you.

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Anecdotes about the army, PTSD, religion and God, sexuality, absentee father, and the big ones; love and family, take us on journeys with the characters that you would ditch for a slapstick comic scene in the typical sitcom. This show does funny, jumps to serious and then spins us back in a tizzy of cackling laughter all in the space of thirty minutes. And in all of that we get widespread character profiles, heaps of cultural context into one nook of the vast Latin community, Cuba in particular, and the addressing of important themes and issues being tackled in todays real world. You hear one-liners and jokes in 80s/90s sitcoms, sometimes even the current ones, where significant issues like gender power roles, homosexuality and race/ethnicity labeled or even stigmatized as the subsequent ‘butt.’ Eric were always teased about his role in his relationship with Donna in That 70s Show, Chandler in Friends was always anxious about being assumed gay, and Raj in The Big Bang Theory experiences the ill-advised ‘brown dude’ jokes. Now we all know comedy is not meant to be taken seriously, the comic content is not a reflection of society’s views and/or actions, yet it is refreshing to see a group of writers poking fun at the abuela’s accent, or the daughters goth best friend, or even the extensive topic of religion and then stripping it all back to touch upon the other side to these social, cultural and political matters. Some may love, some may hate it, some may say it’s a fresh outlook of comedy, some may say if I wanted serious TV I would’ve watched Line of Duty, but you can’t please everybody, and if you tried, you will be stuck in writing and development stages until the end of time. It is a different side to comedy, sometimes serious, but it still abides by the primary function – being funny.

So to review, One Day at a Time is new age sitcom, a drama for the family, and a new take on an ever-growing, soon-to-be crowded industry predicated on form and genre. So they turn the tables and instead of having another dark fantasy, or crime drama (which are still awesome) they give us a tough, gritty, real comedy show, and a damn simple one at that. After all it is a show about a family merely going about their day-to-day business, you don’t need to look farther than the title to see that much. It gives us well thought out characterisations, and interesting scenarios and situations, but will they be able to keep a hold of them through to the second season? The real test is not how the first season is received, but how they can top it with the second, third, fourth and so on and so forth, if they are lucky enough to see an abundance of network renewals.

Here’s hoping because the first season had me from the get go.

Rita Moreno

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Is British TV Underrated?

That all depends on what you class as ‘British TV’ and what does that even mean? Is there a bad connotation attached to the word ‘underrated?’

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America has given us a long list of greats when it comes to TV, covering a wide array of genre and form, from The X Files to Dallas, Cheers to Charmed and Twin Peaks to Seinfeld. And we cannot argue that the profundity of Hollywood has sent the film industry straight into our hearts, minds, and, of course, our pockets. In the face of film, TV always tended to drop and play around in the shadows, with a crossover between the two, in terms of story, cast and crew, just not being feasible and/or desirable. But now, TV has risen out of those shadows and made its own majestic mark in the showbiz, entertainment world, striding alongside film, shoulder to shoulder, stealing its actors, actresses, directors and producers, re-building film’s failed attempts into shows followed so intently by audiences it becomes part of their daily life to catch the latest episode. Now lets not diminish the power of the movies just yet, everyone wants to be a big-time, a-lister movie star, but what will they always remember? Where they got their start. For most of the latest crop, and even some from the past who always found their way back, that start was in TV! Just look at Julia Louis-Dreyfus; found fame on Seinfeld, went on to star in her own sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine which was cancelled after a very successful five seasons and once again rose to undeniable, unbeaten fame with the still going strong, Veep. She had film roles in between her TV, but always came back, that’s true loyalty to an industry still trying to flourish in the background of Hollywood. There are many more actors and actresses like Louis-Dreyfus, and because of them, the incredible talent in the writer’s rooms, and most notably in this era, the different viewing platforms, TV has risen to become one of the biggest, baddest industries across the world.

 

But, is it all because of American TV? Not a chance.

 

Some would believe it to be so, especially with most of Britain’s talent jumping ship and finding work across the pond, but that’s their prerogative, a person has to build their career somehow. Even writers, directors and producers have to join forces with their American counterparts in order to make their dreams a reality. It’s all part of the big rat race that is showbiz, and, to put it simply, life. This article isn’t predicated on picking at America’s successful TV industry and all the people behind it like a ratty child throwing their toys out the pram. No, it’s about the other successful TV industry and the many other people responsible for doing it – British TV. It is transcending boundaries and pushing past limits to create and present great stories, characters and messages to its viewers. Some examples are; Midsomer Murders, Peaky Blinders, Prime Suspect and Spooks, Goodness Gracious Me, Cold Feet, Only Fools and Horses and Absolutely Fabulous. These shows all represent Britishness – a way of life Britons can identify with, stories that most can discuss with friends or at parties and say; ‘did you see the latest Cold Feet? That reminded me of the time I…’ or even ‘just re-watched the first series of Spooks, it puts things into perspective…’ They are all still talked about, watched and enjoyed, but if you were to mention one of these names to someone abroad, would they know them straight off the bat? Maybe not these examples, but I can bet any money that if a person dropped these show titles, they would know: Downtown Abbey, The Night Manager, The Crown, Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Office, and why is that? Two words. US backing. So the moral of this article is that British TV has become lost to the power of the American dollar, and the solely British TV of today, like Mrs. Browns Boys, Citizen Khan, Mount Pleasant, Victoria, Death in Paradise and Vera, are going unnoticed by most of the world despite being brilliant in their own right. Thus, wouldn’t you say British TV is underrated?

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Victoria (2016-present)

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Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)

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Spooks (2002-2011)

We can’t fault those British TV shows that are backed by the States because they are brimming with all the good things TV has to offer; immersive storylines, identifiable characters, socio-political and cultural messages the world needs to have thrown in their faces. And a bonus perk is that these American-backed British shows are winning in the critical acclaim race, with The Golden Globes, SAGs and Emmy’s opening their doors to these British actors/actresses and creators by awarding them with the highest honours. Claire Foy is a recent Golden Globe winner for her work in The Crown, as is Tom Hiddleston for The Night Manager, and in the past years we have seen Wolf Hall win best Mini-series. We know it’s not all about accolades and critics and ratings play a big role in the success of a show, and from pulling in a viewership of 1.6 million, The Night Manager brought a surge of 70% since its premiere. So there work is obviously good as its applauded by the bigwigs and the people tune in to watch. But it’s not completely British, and the ones that are just seem to be hovering in and out of the shadows. Whether they want to come out of the shadows or not, whether they want America to shuttle them towards the limelight or not, they are definitely deserving of worldwide recognition, slots that are being filled up by other shows, and all because they have a foot in its success. Does that sound slightly nepotistic?

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The Crown (2016-present)

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The Night Manager (2016-present)

This may sound like an ‘axe to grind’ article against America and its TV industry but it is actually a call for the hidden gems of British TV to be understood and recognised as primetime players in the big game that is entertainment. And one way that it has already happened is through the art of streaming, where Netflix UK & Ireland stream a wide array of inherently British TV shows, for instance, The Thick of It, Top Boy, Skins, Benidorm, Outnumbered, Blackadder, Whitechapel, the list is endless. It is a big step, but it makes you wonder if all these shows are on the US Netflix, or the European version, and the people who get to watch need to have a subscription, so is it a big step after all?

To counter my own point, is it better for these shows to remain as they are, because if they were to lose their underrated status, would they still be those very British TV shows they started out as? If the whole world knew about them, and they became high-ranking entertainment shows, would the market of British TV cease to exist as just that, British? A market of its own? These conversations tend to strike a chord, but they are also a double-edged sword. So what is the right answer? Is there a right answer? No, there is just an opinion, a POV, and this article is mine. I believe the un-Americanised British TV is underrated, but I also don’t have a solution that won’t taint its reputation as good, solid entertainment, so maybe being underrated is its power, its tool to be a constant in the industry even after its airtime has concluded, because they are the ‘indies’ of TV, the hidden gems that just need to unearthed by the lovers of Television. I mean, even America must have its own version of this; it can’t all be surplus ratings, prestigious honours and huge fan-followings.

There has got to a balance.

 

The Pitches have returned…

Kendrick, Wilson, and Snow return to the acapella stage to showcase their unique dropping beat styles, as well as dropping other stuff, like Rebel herself. Their opening numbers all seem to shock and disturb the audiences, from projectile vomiting to a botched version of Miley’s Wrecking Ball culminating in a seriously wedged Wilson flashing America. With that defaming the Bella’s throughout the country, they return to fight the oppressors of their sound and take back their title as champions. How do they do it? By trying to change history, all the while battling the demons of teenage/young adult angst, the typical life issues of what the hell am I doing with my life, where am I going, etc etc etc. So, the first film saw an identity rebranding for the Barden Bellas, from the lacklustre hip twitchers and finger snappers, to the gyrating and stripping antics of these rocking chicks busting out the Pitbull/Bruno Mars/Simple Minds mash ups. Pitch Perfect 2 brings us a more amplified image of song and dance alongside a coming of age experience for Beca, Fat Amy, and Chloe as they embark upon life after the Bellas.

The norm of sequels is that the second can never beat the first, and that is true in this case. Pith Perfect took audiences by storm, branding acapella as this cool, happening thing, and creating underdog characters with a sense of power and popularity. The sequel does the same thing, but throws them into sticky situations, which takes away from the humour of the first film. The funniest one liners and scenes in the whole film derive from the Bellas’ singing and dancing action, like Beca’s schoolgirl crush on their hot, new competition, or Fat Amy’s uber confident, hilariously blunt attitude.The empty space of banter between each performance is just that, empty and maybe even boring. But I have to give props to Elizabeth Banks’ direction and also her acting as the acapella commentator in both films, she is legendary in the field of comedy.

We are introduced to a new girl, Emily Junk, played by Hailee Steinfeld, she is like a slightly goofy, super excited to learn fan girl, but she is a bit lacklustre in my opinion and not the typical Bella if you visualise her against the first film’s audition scenes. While her mother Katherine Junk, played by Katey Sagal from Married…With Children fame, just exudes a familiar sense of comedy where we kinda want her to be a Bella, rather than her daughter.

Romance was in the air throughout the sequel too. Where the plot moves away from Beca and Jesse, as they are now in a long-term relationship, viewers are shown a more sentimental side to Bumper, played by Adam DeVine, when he declares his undying love for Fat Amy. Their match is so original and unexpected that the drama from their love story falters and just returns to sheer humour and comic appeal, most notably when she painfully runs to his side to reciprocate his feelings. And lets not forget Benji’s, played by Ben Platt, shot at happiness with the new Bella in town, Emily. Their connection is cute and quirky, like two kids new to the idea of love, who don’t know what to do, so resort to little games, like magic tricks, to make the other laugh. And the rest is history.

Aside from the slightly disappointing aura of the Bellas’ return to the big screen, their reprisal of the cups song in a mellow acoustic version did have a warm effect on myself and, I’m sure, fellow Pitch Perfect lovers. And to top all the sentimentality off, their final performance where they brought back all the past Bella’s for one night only as a farewell to their lives as Barden Bellas. The end sees Emily becoming properly initiated into the Bellas, and, as we all know how Hollywood works, probably the glimmer of hope for a third movie. But will it be any good without the original girls, Fat Amy and ‘Pound Beca Effin Mitchell.’

Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

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So, we have Michael Keaton levitating in only his underpants in the middle of his dressing room, during the first clip of the film, sort of talking to himself, or is he talking to his alter ego/tormenting soul, or is someone actually talking to him. Either way, we are immediately invited into this intensely dark presence of mental incapacity within Riggan Thomson’s, played by Keaton, slow, delirious breakdown as a washed-up actor trying to revive, and adapt to a new, less comic-book character-driven, career, ironically, through a Broadway adaptation show.

Irony, in fact, plays a pivotal role throughout the film, from which a great portion of its comedy derives from, most heavily represented through Riggan’s portrayal of Raymond Carver’s Mel, when in actual fact he is spewing his life’s woes to the ignorant audience, right to the dramatic climax of the opening night performance, all the while denying his mental instabilities in the big bad world of showbiz. So, it is a play within a film, ricocheting between three stories, Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk about Love’, the actors’ lives during the build-up to their opening performance, and then solely Riggan’s psychological torment, at the hands of his Birdman character/alter-ego, which also happens to be another film. So, González Iñárritu has invited us into a destabilisation of conventional modernist art, and opened audience’s eyes to a postmodernist style of intertextuality and bricolage.

The story plays with our imaginations, the enigmas of higher powers within the capacity of the ordinary human. So, can we all just simply levitate into the sky and fly across the city of New York, freeing ourselves from soul-attacking shackles, or is that a mere hallucination of drunken loitering? González Iñárritu gives Riggan all the power in the world, from levitation to telekinesis, but forbids him the mere control of his own life, as the very attribution of these powers is due to his critically-invasive double identity, voiced, and soon visualised near the end, as his alter-ego, Birdman.

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Emma Stone and Edward Norton, respectively nominated for Oscar’s in supporting categories, along with the many other accolades Keaton has already, and is yet to, receive, played into their subversive, destructive and partially delusional characterisations exceptionally well, heightening secondary character’s broken identities, just as much as the protagonist. Its hard to find a fault in a film openly showcasing dysfunction as both, comedic and dramatic in the same sitting, and actually doing it well enough to garner many of the prestigious honours, like Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Academy Awards.

The cast and crew of Birdman push the boundaries of generic filmmaking to stage immense creativity originating from a rebellious postmodern release of humanity into a world of the unknown. Instead of showing us what we want to see, we are prohibited from witnessing Riggan’s final soaring into his own, but not before telling his destructive other to fuck off, and simply have to concoct our individual conclusion of events from Stone’s embellished wide-eyed expression of awe as she gazes up, smiling at, what we assume to be, his well-deserved hurrah of liberating peace.

To conclude, Birdman is a creatively conceived deterioration, developed into a rebellion, of the mind, body and soul, delivered through a postmodern tone of ironic hilarity, the typical psychological drama film – a hybridisation of sorts.

Image sources: http://redcarpetcrash.com, https://redheadbooknerd.wordpress.com.

Ones to Watch in 2015

The buzz on Birdman, The Theory of Everything, Into the Woods, American Sniper and Ex Machina.

  1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifinakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts.

Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo

With an ensemble cast, a director that brought us Babel, in 2006 and a cleverly eccentric plot, Birdman has reached great heights since its October release in the States, with Globe wins, and SAG and Oscar nominations, not to mention festival and box office acclaim of $34.2 million gross worldwide. I already have my slot lined up, ready to watch in awe. Critics have been rampantly praising it, with the Telegraph calling it ‘a Dark Knight of the soul’ and Michael Keaton’s portrayal of lead character Riggan Thompson has been credited as bold and ‘soaring in this electrifying character study’, as reviewed by online entertainment site Digital Spy. It’s a must-see psychological and darkly funny drama that I have had my eye on ever since that odd teaser of a half-naked Keaton jogging through a busy (its always busy) Times Square.

  1. The Theory of Everything

Directed by James Marsh.

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, David Thewlis and Harry Lloyd.

Written by Anthony McCarten.

Biopics have been making their mark in recent years, from the likes of My Week with Marilyn, Lincoln and The Kings Speech, all faring well at the box office and garnering critical recognition and success. Well, the life and work of Stephen Hawking is the next biographical venture for film, headed by James Marsh, from Man on Wire and Project Nim fame. Adapted from Hawkings’ first wife, Jane’s, memoir, ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’, Marsh touches upon themes of science, romance, and ultimately, life during the time of Hawking’s biggest achievement till date. Eddie Redmayne fresh from his Golden Globes win for Leading Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, and Felicity Jones’ portrayal of the Hawking couple has been met with praise and appreciation by The Guardian, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, as well as cinematographer Benoît Delhomme and Jóhan Jóhannsson’s score receiving acclaim. If you like learning as well as being entertained, this scientifically-driven romantic drama about Stephen Hawking is just right for you.

  1. Into the Woods

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Lilla Crawford, MacKenzie Mauzy and Daniel Huttlestone.

Written by James Lapine

Another ensemble cast of brilliant acting abilities, who can hold a tune, which is exactly what Stephen Sondheim and Rob Marshall wanted for the film adaptation of the former’s classic Tony-award winning Broadway show. Sondheim and Marshall team together to bring us a beautifully dark big screen version of the Brothers Grimm tales entwined into the fictional story of a baker and his wife. If its $120million and over worldwide gross is anything to go by, I’m sure the public were raving to see this movie. With many surprising performances and awe-dropping vocals of the younger stars, families across the world who have a love for fairy tales will turn out to watch and enjoy this fantasy musical. Meryl Streep takes centre stage as the frightening Witch, but I am sure nobody will care if she looks ugly and old, her voice alone will steal the show.

  1. American Sniper

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

Written by Jason Dean Hall.

Since that teaser was released of Bradley Cooper’s character, Chris Kyle, a United States Navy SEAL, silently and calmly in the midst of a sniper attack, I was intrigued to know more about this film. We know Cooper can do comedy well, he can do romance well, and since Silver Linings Playbook, he can let audiences into a more dramatic depth of personality, so I was under no impression of negativity when he was cast as the lead in this Clint Eastwood production. My surprise came from its many Academy Award nominations, but with Eastwood for a director, and after his many successes with Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, this is not his first dance at the Oscars. Based on the memoir of Chris Kyle, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, this biopic tells the mentally and physically tumultuous tale of a man torn between his love of the job or his true love at home. The sedate darkness of Eastwood creations with a harrowing story of the American Sniper is a match I would like too see.

  1. Ex Machina

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring Domhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.

Written by Alex Garland.

This eagerly anticipated British Science Fiction production is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, known for his writing abilities in the Danny Boyle films 28 Days Later and Sunshine, about a man unknowingly becoming involved in the investigative challenging of the powers of humanity in the latest Artificial Intelligence experimentation, Ava, portrayed by Vikander. Gleeson’s character Caleb and Isaac’s Nathan go head to head in this thriller-esque reconfiguration of typical Sci-Fi to stimulate our minds into either accepting the unsettling notion of a new mechanically engineered world or undeniably fearing the lengths one would go to, to succeed in such a task. With his previous roles in the shadows of other actors, Gleeson comes into the forefront as the face of good against the aesthetically unnerving and formidable characterisation of Isaac, recently famed for his portrayals in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year. Still in post-production, the film is set to storm the UK and US film industries, elevating the Science Fiction genre to new heights of mysterious emotional instabilities.