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Published: Fri, 30 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2016 06:20:13 -0400


The Exorcist and MacGyver Are Back with Reboots

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

MacGyver. CBS. Friday, September 23, 8 p.m. The Exorcist. Fox. Friday, September 23, 9 p.m. Watching new TV shows, I often wish I could have been in the pitch meetings in which network executives bought them. "Hey, Dave, when The Exorcist first came out, people in the audience puked right in their seats! Wouldn't it be great if we had some of that?" Or: "Really, Mr. Geller, the original MacGyver was so profoundly stupid that Saturday Night Live is still making fun of it 30 years later! It's a natural for us!" These examples are not, as you have surmised, hypothetical. As the broadcast nets pass the midway point in the rollout of their new fall season, they're offering up two remakes of resurrected video corpses on a single night. All you need is to throw in a frozen Swanson turkey dinner for a complete National TV Archeological Dig Day. One of these, surprisingly, is not half-bad. I was never a fan of even the original Exorcist, much less its various klunky sequels and prequels. It always seemed to me to be a passel of gloppy special effects wrapped around a meager plot, going for cheap gross-outs rather than genuine scares. This new television version certainly has its share of projectilized pea soup. But the characters and story, at least in the pilot, are much more finely honed and much less predictable. The show's surprises are all the more striking because this Exorcist follows, at least in a general way, the framework of its 1973 cinematic ancestor. Alfonso Herrera (Sens8) plays a charismatic young priest in a decaying Chicago neighborhood where his principal duty is raising money to keep his dilapidated church from falling to pieces. The closest he gets to actual theological work is absolving the cats of his aging parishioners for their sins against birds and mice. One day, though, he's visited by a frazzled member of his flock (Geena Davis), the de facto head of a troubled family. She cites the usual complaints—bitchy teenage daughter, noises in the wall, moving furniture, an unquenchable thirst for the blood of virgin goats (okay, I made that one up, but you know it's coming sooner or later—and then sums up: "It's a demon, and it's trying to take my daughter." Replies the blithely post-Vatican II Father Tomas: "Demons are metaphors." And it's not just the existence of demons Father Tomas doubts; he's wondering about the whole foundation of his faith. "If you talk to other priests," he confides in an unguarded moment, "they will tell you they heard God's voice. ... I never had that." What he does have are haunting nightmares about a disastrously unsuccessful exorcism attempt by another priest. And when he learns that the dreams are true, he thinks he may be hearing God's voice after all. He doesn't consider the possibility that someone else, much darker, is going to do the talking. The Exorcist's pilot was directed by Rupert Wyatt, of Rise of the Planet of the Apes fame, and it's photographed in dim tones and silhouettes that lend the show an atmosphere of foreboding and desolation. (Including a couple of shots of priests peering up at the demon's lair from the shadows of the streets below that are definitely an homage to the work of cinematographer Owen Roizman on the original film.) So do the performances of Herrera, note-perfect as the priest whose handsome, friendly mien masks so many crippling incertitudes about his calling, and Davis as the mother holding onto sanity by a frayed thread. The most interesting thing of all about The Exorcist is that it shares the hardball theology of Fox's Lucifer, AMC's Preacher and Cinemax's exorcism show Outcast. One renegade priest in The Exorcist even resolves his doctrinal disputes with Rome not with an encyclical but a .38. It seems television's era of amiable pseudo-Unitarian clergymen of the Touched by an Angel and Highway to Heaven stripe is officially dead. Not that anything stays dead on television these days. If any program has ever had a stake pounded through its heart, it would be MacGyver, relentlessly mocked for all these years on not just Saturday Night L[...]

Friday A/V Club: ABC, LSD, and the CIA

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:15:00 -0400

(image) Watergate and the other scandals of the '70s sparked a surge in skepticism toward the country's most powerful institutions. Here is an artifact from that era: a 1979 ABC News special called Mission: Mind Control. The hour-long documentary examines the CIA and Army's attempts to master brainwashing and other sorts of behavioral manipulation, included unethical experiments in which unwitting subjects were dosed with psychedelic drugs.

The show occasionally lapses into TV-news goofiness—at one point, as psychedelic imagery flashes on the screen, we're told that what we're watching is "considered by many experts to be the closest illustration of the effects of a hallucinogenic"—but at its core it's a hard-hitting piece of journalism. It was preserved, interestingly, by the National Archives and Records Administration, which did not bother to remove the commercials from the broadcast. So along with a harrowing exposé of official crimes, you get to see Will Rogers Jr. pitching Grape Nuts and a promo for a Geraldo Rivera report on a biker gang (featuring "dope, death, and the Bandidos"). Enjoy:

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(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Are Speechless, Designated Survivor, Notorious, or Pitch Worth Your Time?

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Speechless. ABC. Wednesday, September 21, 8:30 p.m. Designated Survivor. ABC. Wednesday, September 21, 10 p.m. Notorious. ABC. Thursday, September 22, 9 p.m. Pitch. Fox. Thursday, September 22, 9 p.m. As the big rollout week of the fall TV season reaches midpoint, it's a wonderful life for female baseball players, chiefs of dorky cabinet departments, wheelchair kids, sleazebucket pols and the parasitic reporters attached to their veins—and especially TV viewers. The latest batch of new broadcast shows offers a lot of pleasures, even if some of them are guilty—very guilty. Those are plentiful with ABC's Notorious, which—spoiler alert—has nothing to with do either rap music or Nazi spies. But don't worry, there's enough social deviance for everybody. Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs) plays Julia George, the icy producer of America's top cable-news show. "She decides what the country cares about," murmurs a breathlessly awed assistant. "She creates heroes and monsters, victims and villains." Her secret accomplice in this is Los Angeles power lawyer Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata, Graceland), who publicly pretends to feud with Julia while secretly slipping her secrets that make him, if not always necessarily his clients, look good. Their sleazy good times, however, are interrupted when one of Julia's ex-hooker staffers discovers that Julia's federal-judge fiance is a gourmet consumer of call girls, while a client of Jake's is murdered just before she's scheduled to appear on the show. Homicidal hijinks ensue, including lots of lovably sordid stunts by the show's voracious cougar anchor (Kate Jenning Grant, Frost/Nixon) and its stalkerazzi intern (Ryan Guzman, Pretty Little Liars). There's probably no single thing here you haven't seen in one TV show or another. What makes Notorious different is that they all happen at once in a 42-minute package. In practically every frame, somebody is suppressing a news story or submarining a client or engaging in gleeful sexual predation, often all at the same time. It's hard to say which comes off as worse or more priapic in Notorious, journalism or the law; or what the reporters and lawyers enjoy more, extortion or squalid sex. The exuberant and universal cynicism of Notorious makes it a lot of fun to watch, even as your concept of morality shrivels up like a vampire in the sun. Not that the show won't force you to ask some searching questions. For instance: Notorious is supposedly based on the relationship between attorney Mark Geragos (of Gary Condit and Scott Peterson fame) and former Larry King Live producer Wendy Walker, both of whom get producer credits. Even in a confessional age when murderers post their kills on Facebook, you can only wonder if the lure of television celebrity has done so much damage to the human genetic code that we're on the verge of species suicide when people are willing—even anxious—to make a show celebrating their own feral treachery. If that's too existential for you, then count up all the dressing-room couplings at Notorious' notional network and try to guess how the number stacks up against one of Roger Ailes' wet dreams. The appeal of ABC's new sitcom Speechless is less sketchy, if somewhat more surprising, unless you're among the avant-garde TV audience that's been longing for the networks to take that long-overdue comic look at cerebral palsy. But ABC has become increasingly adept in making comedies on hot-button issues ranging from race (Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat) to gay marriage (Modern Family) that play with politically-correct fire without burning themselves. (Though we'll also pause for a moment of silence for Crumbs, ABC's 2006 attempt at a sitcom on mental illness that was ritually put to death by critics after five episodes.) With Speechless, created and written by Friends veteran Scott Silveri, the network has done it again. Michal Fowler (Labor Day), who in real life shares most of the disabilities of his character J.J., plays—with considerable elan—a cerebral-palsy-a[...]

New Shows for Your Consideration: Bull, This Is Us, and Lethal Weapon

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Bull. CBS. Tuesday, September 20, 9 p.m. This Is Us. NBC. Tuesday, September 20, 10 p.m. Lethal Weapon. Fox. Wednesday, September 21, 8 p.m. If there was any doubt that the Internet, having wreaked havoc on the music and newspaper industries, has now set its sights on television, the new fall broadcast season should quell it. Not only are the networks pulling back on long-term investment by cutting their series orders, filling out their schedules with specials and sports, but they're actually taking programming advice from the business' heirheads-apparent, digital-streaming companies. Last month, Fox executives admitted at an industry event that their network decided to revive the 2005-2009 drama Prison Break after learning old episodes were drawing a lot of traffic on Netflix. That probably wasn't the only conversation Fox bosses had with their counterparts at Netflix, because no network has more profoundly cast its lot with the ghosts of falls past. More than a third of the shows Fox will introduce over the course of the 2016-17 season are remakes of old movies or TV series. (Or, as network suits prefer to call them, reboots: Hey, kids, we speak that Interwebs lingo!) In addition to Prison Break, The Exorcist, 24 and the Lethal Weapon movies will all shamble back onto the scene, proving that there is indeed something shallower than Hollywood's current creative instincts: Its graveyards. That said, the startling but undeniable truth about the new Lethal Weapon, which debuts Tuesday as the nets start rolling their new dramas, is that it's pretty damn good: sharply drawn characters, snappy dialogue, and awesome action sequences. I'm not sure that Clayne Crawford (Rectify) and Damon Wayans Sr. are going to make anybody forget Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, but they'll be more than good enough for the large audience that's never seen the four films, the last of which is nearly two decades old. The show follows the template established in the movies: Crawford plays a brash young military special-ops vet turned cop left suicidally reckless by a family tragedy. Wayans, with 22 years as a policeman, is struggling with health and retirement issues, which aren't exactly clarified by the near-universal greeting of his colleagues on his first day back at work after a heart attack: "I thought you were dead!" Thrust together as partners, their initial relationship ranges from wary to openly hostile. "I'm just in a place in my life where I don't want to be the cowboy anymore," declares Wayans, to which Crawford retorts: "There's plenty of good people in this world who aren't cops. Go be one of them." But they're eventually drawn together by their mutual antipathy toward the criminal-justice system brass, their love of hardball wisecracks and their affinity for truly insane gunplay and car chases. (One of the latter takes place inside a Grand Prix race.) The madcap stunt work and the buddy-cop badinage make Lethal Weapon seem like a throwback to the 1970s or '80s, which of course is exactly what it is—but in a loopy, fun way. NBC's This Is Us, on the other hand, is not a throwback or a remake. If you get the eerie feeling you've seen it before, it's probably because you actually have—on Facebook, where an early release of its two-and-a-half-minute trailer was viewed a remarkable 51 million times in its first week online this summer. (To put that in perspective, it represents more eyeballs than were assembled for Johnny Carson's final Tonight Show.) The immense popularity of a trailer that doesn't include a fire-breathing atomic lizard remains a mystery to me. But the full pilot episode of This Is Us is a captivating experience, an interlocking series of vignettes of despair, joy, rage, regret and hilarity. Though it takes some time to sense the connections, This Is Us concerns a handful of curiously intertwined people suffering though miserable 36th birthdays. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia, Heroes) has his dreams of birthday sex quashed just short of fruition [...]

Watch the 60 Minutes Interview With Gary Johnson and Bill Weld

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 11:20:00 -0400

One of the many ways that Gary Johnson's 2016 run for president doesn't remotely resemble his 2012 campaign, let alone any other in the history of the Libertarian Party, is the level of media interest. Four years ago Johnson was begging CNN for coverage; this year the cable-news network has held two different town hall conversations with he and vice presidential nominee William Weld. Last night, the L.P. ticket was presented to considerably more viewers on longtime CBS hit magazine program 60 Minutes. You can watch the whole broadcast below: View More: 60 Minutes News|Live News|More News Videos No big surprises or deviations for anybody who's been paying attention to the campaign. Host Steve Kroft gave a respectful probing of their views, though his shock at notion of dismantling the Department of Homeland Security (among other "radical" ideas) was amusing, as was his lingering on Johnson's pot-smoking past. That latter point, in fact, got big play in the 60 Minutes overtime materials on its website. Sample: Johnson's positions are informed, in part, by being personally acquainted with the effects of marijuana use. He was an unabashed consumer of the drug until earlier this year, when he was happy to trade the title "cannabis user" for "presidential nominee." Johnson says the role of Commander-in-chief is too important to gamble with ganja. "I've always said you should not show up on the job impaired," he told Kroft. "Running for president is a 24/7 gig. Being president is a 24/7 gig. Incoming missiles, you got 12 minutes to deal with it." I wonder sometimes whether the '60s-'70s generation of journalists realize how much they ended up sounding like their once-despised parents…. Anyway, part of Johnson's rambling answer to 60 Minutes about ISIS—specifically, his contention that the group is "overrated," though that's a "terrible thing to say these days"—may get some play, given the ongoing terrorism investigations in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, and Johnson's bungle on CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday morning that he was "just grateful that nobody got hurt" in attacks that injured dozens. ("Gary Johnson completely botches Chelsea explosion response," went the headline in the New York Post.) Meanwhile, the candidate was asked on CNN in the wee hours of this morning about Carl Bernstein's speculation that Weld is considering dropping out to make sure Donald Trump doesn't win. Johnson's response: "Bill Weld is in this for the long haul." UPDATE: The Hill reports that Johnson added "No, no chance Bill Weld drops out."[...]

Media Outlets Sue for Details on San Bernardino Terrorist IPhone Hack

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 17:00:00 -0400

(image) Does the American public have the right to know how the FBI hacked into an iPhone being used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook? Or maybe put it a different way: Does the American public have the right to know when the federal government uncovers a security vulnerability that makes it possible to hack into their tech devices?

Those questions are at the heart of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by several media companies filed today against the Justice Department.

Previously, the Department of Justice got significant public attention trying to force Apple via court order to assist them in breaking into Farook's phone to find out if there was any evidence connected with his deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino or potentially other planned attacks. Apple resisted the court order, warning that such a move had the potential to weaken the security of its phones.

As a court confrontation reached its climax, the FBI backed down. The FBI was able to figure out a way, through an independent party, how to break into the phone. Now the question is whether the FBI can legally conceal that information and the vulnerability they exploited from the public. The Associated Press, Vice, and Gannett are teaming up for a lawsuit. From TechCrunch:

The news organizations involved in the lawsuit argue that the vulnerability is of considerable public interest and should be disclosed and that [FBI Director James] Comey's own comments reflect that.

"Moreover, the FBI's purchase of the technology — and its subsequent verification that it had successfully obtained the data it was seeking thanks to that technology — confirmed that a serious undisclosed security vulnerability existed (and likely still exists) in one of the most popular consumer products in the world," the lawsuit states, adding that "there is no lawful basis" for information about the purchase to be kept secret.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told USA Today, "I am confident that the Obama administration will comply with the law," and that the administration has "tried to be as transparent as possible" about the situation. "Given the sensitive nature of the information, we've been quite limited in what we can discuss openly," Earnest added. Apple has not commented on the lawsuit.

The conflict highlights the government's tendency to prize the ability to break into devices and computers in order to engage in surveillance over the citizens' right to privacy, even though such a mindset could result in Americans' data and communications being more vulnerable to hackers and intruders. Andrea Castillo wrote about the problems with such an attitude here.

Heavenly New Comedy Lampoons Technocratic Rule

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Kevin Can Wait. CBS. Monday, September 19, 8:30 p.m. The Good Place. NBC. Monday, September 19, 10 p.m. Choose your metaphor—the buzzards returning to Hinckley, the lemmings to Lapland—but every year around this time, we swarm to our TV sets for the new fall broadcast season. And a few weeks later, like—choose your metaphor, sated ticks or Zika-bloated Aedes aegypti—we roll dazedly off our couches, wondering what just happened and why. Between now and Halloween, as the networks roll out 21 new shows, the tube will reel with time-traveling homicide detectives, visionary doctors, bewildered corpses, Mexican exorcists, girl pitchers, Jack Bauer clones, doomed lovers trying to cross stuff off their apoca-lists, stay-at-home dads amazed to find out what wretched little swine they've spawned, and remakes of movies you hated the first time around. Fully half the new shows debut next week as the nets, after several live-and-let-live years of staggering their premieres to avoid quick head-to-head knockouts, resume their ancestral kamikaze ways. The strategy is puzzling, especially since the networks are otherwise proceeding conservatively, avoiding the huge start-up costs of new series (20 is the smallest number in years) and padding out their schedules with sports and one-shot specials. But who am I to question the wisdom of the collective industry braintrust that gave us Supertrain and Viva Laughlin! Admittedly that's a low bar, but the comedies that kick off the season Monday night are several hundred thousand cuts above those two epic disasters. NBC's The Good Place, in fact, is a gem of subversive mockery, trashing everything from New Age cosmic-muffin deism to central planning with gleeful comic bloodlust. The Good Place stars Kristen Bell (Showtime's House of Lies) as Eleanor Shellstrop, an amiable young amnesiac who wakes up in a nondescript office that turns out to be the placement center for the afterlife. But, she's warned, "It's not the heaven or hell idea you were raised on." And yeah, "warned" is the appropriate verb. The great beyond is managed not by some thundering Big Guy but a cadre of technocrats who assign souls based on a strict numerical scoresheet. (Was a commissioner of a professional football league, minus 824.5 points; never discussed veganism unprompted, plus 9,825.41 points) Those like Eleanor who make the cutoff go to the Good Place, which is subdivided into neighborhoods made up of exactly 322 people "selected to blend into a blissful harmonic balance," explains Michael (Ted Danson), the rookie commissar of Eleanor's little chunk of eternity. As for those who don't make the strictly enforced cutoff—including Mozart, Picasso, Elvis, "basically every artist who ever lived," and even Florence Nightingale—Michael's ominously vague advice is "don't worry about it." So Eleanor has the run of the neighborhood, including shops like The Small Adorable Pet Depot and Your Every Anticipated Need, as well as a just-the-right-size cottage decorated in the celestially approved Icelandic Primitive, all in the company of her kind-hearted, officially selected soul mate Chidi (William Jackson Harper, Paterson). There's just one problem: mistaken identity. Eleanor, prior to shuffling off the moral coil, was not a lawyer who worked pro bono to get wrongly convicted inmates off Death Row, but a whorish telemarketer who huckstered old people into buying worthless herbal remedies. (Only rule: "We can't call it medicine because it doesn't, technically, work.") And though she doesn't tell anybody, the presence of a reprobate soul soon sends the Good Place off the harmonic rails, with attacks by giant rampaging ladybugs and other Old Testament-ish plagues. From there, The Good Place becomes a whimsically cockeyed entry into the long Hollywood tradition of movies and TV shows about karma-challenged souls trying to work off their debts in the waiting room[...]

Don't Blame the Internet for Conspiracy Rumors

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 12:30:00 -0400

I have mixed feelings about Zeynep Tufekci's op-ed about conspiracy theories in today's New York Times. On the plus side, she recognizes that such stories aren't simply an irrational invasion from the fever swamps—that when elites are secretive and dishonest, suspicious speculations follow. But her arguments about the internet are much weaker. "I'm originally from Turkey, so I'm used to my Western friends snickering at the prevalence of conspiracy theories in the Middle East," Tufekci writes. "It is frustrating, but the reason for these theories is not a mystery. Elites do practice excessive secrecy. Foreign powers have meddled in the region for decades. Institutions that are supposed to be trusted intermediaries, separating facts from fiction while also challenging the powerful, are few and weak." And the Middle East, obviously, isn't the only place where some or all of that is true: People think that their governments are working against them, or at least not for them, and in some cases this is true. Ruling elites around the world are circling their wagons, and fueling more suspicion and mistrust. Reversing that would be the best defense against baseless paranoia... Since Tufekci's piece is pegged to recent rumors about Hillary Clinton's health, it's worth noting a big reason those long-simmering stories just boomed: Last weekend, Clinton really did try to conceal a health problem. Hide one secret, and people find it easier to believe you're hiding more. It isn't the most significant case of secrecy sparking speculation, but it's a pretty clear-cut example. So that's where Tufekci is right. What I have trouble buying is her argument that "new technologies" are making conspiracy theories more popular: The new, internet-driven financing model for news outlets is great for spreading conspiracy theories. Each story lives or dies by how much attention it attracts. This rewards the outrageous, which can get clicks more easily. However, conspiracy theories can live only to the degree they can find communities to flourish in. That's where social media comes in. Finding a community online has been great for many people—the dissident in Egypt, the gay teenager in a conservative town—but the internet is not Thor's hammer, which only the purest of heart can pick up. Connecting online also works for an anti-vaccination parent or a Sept. 11 truther. Conspiracists can organize online and can push their version of the world into the mainstream. First of all: The profits-through-outrageousness business model did not begin with the internet. It emerges any time you've got a lot of commercial news outlets competing with each other, a fact you can confirm by looking back at the days when every big city had more than two dailies duking it out for readers. Or, hell, by looking at a city where you still have more than two dailies duking it out for readers. Remember this headline from 2002? There was a legitimate story there about Bush being briefed on the threat of domestic Al Qaeda attacks—and there were two giant words that implied he knew those particular attacks were on the way. While I'm sure the Post got a lot of clicks that day, that cover was conceived with newsstand sales in mind. In any event, conspiracy theories have always found "communities to flourish in," circulating in alternative media or via stories transmitted orally. The internet has made many of those communities more visible—now you can watch a rumor spread among people you've never met!—but more visible does not necessarily mean more widely believed. More people may be seeing those stories, but more people are seeing debunkings now too; it is easier than ever to check whether the yarn you just heard is an urban legend. (How I wish that Snopes existed when I was growing up.) It is far from clear that the theories are garnering more believers than the critiques, and it[...]

‘70s Pulp Violence Returns in Cinemax’s Quarry

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Quarry. Cinemax. Friday, September 9, 10 p.m. Back in the days when drug-store book racks were crowded with manly-men titles like The Executioner, Death Merchant, and even—maybe, in the back of the store−The Man From O.R.G.Y.,one of the most popular was the Quarry series. Like those other protagonists, Quarry was a hypermasculine gunman who killed and coupled with stupefying frequency and enthusiasm, but he was probably the only one who began life as a character in a master of fine arts thesis project. (Author Max Allan Collins, who would go on to become one of the most prolific pulp authors of the next five decades, was a grad student at the University of Iowa.) And he was certainly the only one with no pretenses to patriotism, national security or crime-busting: Mac "Quarry" Conway was a contract killer who learned his trade as a (moderately psychotic) Marine sniper in Vietnam. His targets were usually marginally worse human beings than he was, but it was always a close call and not one that Quarry spent much time contemplating. Forty years and 13 novels after his birth on the printed page, Quarry is making the jump to television, in an oddly absorbing new Cinemax series about alienation, amorality and blowing people's heads off, not necessarily in that order. Logan Marshall-Green (The O.C.) plays the title character, who with foxhole buddy Arthur (Jamie Hector, The Wire), returns home to Memphis in 1972 from a second tour of duty in Vietnam, but not exactly to the strains of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again." "Y'all got any other clothes you could change into?" Arthur's wife asks the men as they get off their plane. Anti-war protesters, inflamed by accusations (legally dropped, but not in the court of public opinion) that they participated in a massacre of civilians, are surging around the airport. Even safely past the airport fracas, they find themselves in dead-end jobs, haunted by combat flashbacks, and surrounded by families that seem to have moved on while they were gone. The only person who seems unreservedly glad to see them is a shadowy figure who calls himself The Broker, who after a brief bout of shadow-boxing offers a pile of cash and guns in return for their exercise of a proven skill set: "All you gotta do is pull the trigger, something we both know you're good at." Quarry isn't sold. "If you do this, you are who they say you are," he warns Arthur, who scoffs that whoever they're being asked to kill probably deserves it more than their targets in Vietnam: "We're not talking about preachers and librarians here." They take the offer, Quarry reluctantly; but when the first hit is botched, he finds himself in a legal, financial and emotional quagmire from which withdrawal is no easier than it was from the Mekong Delta. Though Quarry will certainly be recognizable to anyone who followed the books, the show makes some significant changes from the novels, all wise. The most obvious is the exchange of the Midwestern setting for the mid-South, which in the 1970s was a free-fire zone for the redneck gangs that became known as the Dixie Mafia. (Whether or not you regard an axe handle as the most effective tool to combat bands of pimps and moonshiners, Buford Pusser, the bully-boy sheriff of the Walking Tall movies, was a real person.) The Southern noir motif lends Quarry some real atmosphere. More startling, in some ways, are the changes to Quarry's character. Instead of the ruthless killing machine of the novels, he's got a streak of moral introspection. He's troubled by the killings, angry that anyone would think him capable of carrying them out … and appalled that he actually can. That change was almost certainly necessary to turn Quarry into a television series—an hour of compunctionless slaughter a week would have gotten real old, real quick—but it also helps capture the moral exh[...]

Friday A/V Club: Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Number 6

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 09:15:00 -0400

(image) Two cult science fiction shows celebrated 50th anniversaries this week. For Star Trek, the '60s series that comes closest to capturing the spirit of New Frontier liberalism, it has been 50 years since their first broadcast. For The Prisoner, the '60s series that comes closest to capturing the spirit of psychedelic libertarianism, it has been 50 years since they started filming at the Village location they'd found in Wales. (Their first episode aired a year later.)

Reason already nodded to Star Trek earlier this week, so today we'll be seeing that other, better show—the surreal spy-fi allegory about Number 6, the individualist held captive in a totalitarian seaside hamlet. As an antidote the presidential campaign, here is "Free for All," the episode where Number 6 runs for office:

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For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For my favorite piece of Prisoner dialogue, go here. For more from Reason on The Prisoner, read appreciations by Emmanuelle Richard here and Larry Niven here.

New Round of Fearmongering Over Texting and Driving

Tue, 06 Sep 2016 17:07:00 -0400

If you went by the breathless reporting on texting and driving, or the word of law enforcement or "traffic safety advocates" you'd think at any given moment someone is careening to their death because they or another driver had their eyes on their cellphones and not on the road. The latest entry comes from the AP with the headline "Police Losing Battle to Get Drivers Down to Put Down Their Phones". Police around the country are handing out tickets ranging between $20 and $500 (Lousiana), according to the AP, but say they can't catch everyone on a cellphone because it's so prevalent. Cops use bicycles, tractor trailers, and even dress as homeless people to catch drivers using cellphones while theirs cars are moving or while they're stopped at red lights or stop signs. Fortunately some states, like Florida, treat texting and driving as a secondary offense so police won't stop you merely for that infraction. The AP, and the police officers they spoke to, doesn''t offer much in the way of statistics to back the assertion that texting and driving is such a big problem vis a vis traffic accidents. The AP quotes data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which estimates 3,500 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico in 2015, with 476 of those being drivers who use their cellphone. The AP also notes that safety advocates question those numbers because of the self-reporting involved. Let's take a look at wider numbers. According to the Pew Research Center, nine out of ten Americans now own a cellphone and nearly two thirds own a smartphone. Data from The Wireless Association, meanwhile, shows more than 300.5 million cellphone subscribers in the U.S. in 2010, up from 109.5 million in 2000 and 340,000 in 1985, the first year for which the association has data. In the same time periods, fatal traffic accidents have been down. According to the NHTSA, in 2014 there were just under 30,000 fatal crashes, down from just over 30,000 in 2010 and about 37,500 in 2000. The drops are more significant when taking into account miles driven and the number of drivers on the road, and the scope of the problem is a lot smaller. In 2014, there were 1.08 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled, down from 1.11 in 2010 and 1.53 in 2000. There were 15.26 fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers in 2014, 15.71 in 2010 and 22 in 2000. Some of this, of course, has to do with technological advancements that have made cars safer to drive. But the numbers don't support the idea that smartphones are contributing to a rise in traffic fatalities, nor the contention that catching so-called distracted drivers ought to be a high law enforcement priority. Auto safety experts have warned about the obsession over texting and driving before; in short, the theory goes that cellphones are just replacing previous driving distractions (like reading a newspaper, doing your make-up, or eating breakfast) rather than adding to them. But an industry has sprouted up surrounding the idea that texting and driving is a grave problem; there's government money available to proselytize about it and of course a new revenue stream for law enforcement and local governments to exploit, and a new problem for them to demand more money for.[...]

FX Kicks Off New Sitcoms: Better Things and Atlanta

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Atlanta. FX. Tuesday, September 6, 10 p.m. Better Things. FX. Thursday, September 8, 10 p.m. Stop brooding about the relationship between Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. What ought to worry you is what's going on between Murdoch and Louis C.K. Despite generating minimal ratings and even fewer laughs, Louis C.K. is about to place his third sitcom on Murdoch's FX cable network. We are steadily marching toward the extinction of mirth itself. Yes, yes, Louis C.K. wins a ton of awards, and he's all the hot water-cooler buzz of the cutting-edge hip. The thing is, if there were very many of the cutting-edge hip, they wouldn't be either one. Louie, his flagship show of aimless, disconnected and ennui-inducing personal vignettes, rarely topped half a million viewers in its most recent season. The Louis C.K.-produced Baskets, about the misadventures of an unfunny rodeo clown, started off as a weirdly funny sitcom send-up but soon lapsed into undiluted existential despair, its audience scarcely bigger than Louie's. Largely forgotten in all this is Lucky Louie, his single-season attempt at mocking The Honeymooners by portraying a Ralph Kramden-type character as Louis C.K. imagines he'd be in reality: an illiterate, sexually frustrated ("I thought when I got married, I was done masturbating in closets") and misogynist slob. (The genetically imprinted loutishness of blue-collar America is one of Louis C.K's most cherished comic tropes.) I actually sat through all 12 episodes in the certainty that it had to get better, but it was just as humorlessly vulgar at the end as when it started out. And, it turned out, HBO was less patient than I was; when the Lucky Louie DVD set was issued, it contained an unaired 13th episode. Now we have Better Things, co-created -produced by Louis C.K. and longtime collaborator Pamela Adlon, who played his romantic interest in both Lucky Louie and Louie. The new show, chronicling the travails of a single-mom actress named Sam raising three scurrilous, prevaricating daughters in Hollywood, is supposedly based on Adlon's real life. Though frankly it's kind of hard to believe anybody could live for long with kids like this—In the first two episodes, they are demanding parentally funded dope and cliterectomies, the latter apparently some sort of cryptic millennial political statement—without seriously considering their sale to a Honduran sweatshop. What's certainly not in doubt is Louis C.K.'s influence over Better Things. It's stamped all over with his comic trademarks: Sam, examining a script at an audition, barks, "Who writes this shit?" (Hilarious because this is a TV show too and, like, irony!) The teenage daughter screams at Sam, "I really hate you, Mom! You are so unfair!" and Sam screams back, "You are so unfair!" (A gut-buster because bitter family anomie is so funny by itself that it need not be adorned by punchlines or context or, well, anything!) Sam, noticing her gynecologist is pregnant, quips "You got a belly full of dicks there, young lady!" (Because it was a laff riot to say "dicks" out loud in high school, and what's really changed since 1983?) In short, Better Things is a faithful female-themed re-creation of Louis C.K.'s other shows: witless and angry, mistaking contempt for satire, self-important in its clueless disregard for plot, characterization or other niceties of the performing arts. Adlon, who spent seven seasons on Californication as a debauched pubic-hair waxer who even reenacted an urban myth stunt [link to urban myth stunt: ] supposedly pulled by Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful, has long since proven her abilities as a comic actress. But she needs to find another mentor for producing and writing, lest she find herself telling gran[...]

Can Creepy Clowns Be Stopped?

Tue, 30 Aug 2016 12:20:00 -0400

They're roaming the streets, stalking our farmer's markets, diminishing our helium supply...and yet police say there's no way to stop the nomadic, peaceful-but-creepy clown menace. One serious hindrance to law enforcement has been the fact that these clowns, often, do not literally exist. Or, if they do, no tangible evidence of their existence can be found. But that doesn't make them any less real to the residents of places like Greenville, South Carolina, where media is now warning that candy-bearing clowns are trying to lure children into the woods. Several children, teens, and at least one mother living at the town's Fleetwood Manor Apartments claim they've spotted a "clown or person dressed in clown clothing" in woods near the complex, sometimes doing things as benign as standing alone and waving hello while other times gathered en masse waving knives, chains, candy, money and green lasers. As clowns do. The Greenville County Sheriff's Office said Friday that "as of today's date, there has been one incident report filed with our office regarding" the clowns, and "there were two other calls related to this. One call was regarding the clown sightings and the other call was in reference to gunshots being heard in the area. In both calls, the complainants refused to give their names and no incident report was filed. Our deputies did not locate anyone matching the description when they responded." Fleetwood Manor resident Donna Arnold told WYFF4 that "like 30 kids" other than her two boys said they saw the clowns. "The children said they think the clowns live in a house near a pond at the end of a trail in the woods," the local TV station reports. But a Greenville "deputy walked the trail to a house near a pond in the woods behind the apartment. The deputy said there were no signs of suspicious activity and found no one dressed as a clown." Could it be that the menacing clown hordes have simply gotten craftier, however, in the wake of recent high-profile outings? Since 2013, an array of creepy clowns—sometimes solo, sometimes in packs—have allegedly been spotted from France to Florida, New Mexico to Northampton, England...inspiring similar waves of panicked parents, fearful Facebook posts, and faux-concerned reporters. In those instances, police were largely unable to condemn the clowns because they weren't actually doing anything wrong. Dressing as a creepy clown is not, in itself, a crime. Maybe some of these clowns were just on their way to costume parties when spotted, or fetish balls, or whatever. Maybe some were earning a living, like Wrinkles, the Florida clown who's invited by parents to scare misbehaving children for a fee. ("I'm just a good old-fashioned clown," Wrinkles, anti-safe-space warrior, told The Washington Post last year. "When I was a kid, it was okay to scare kids and now they're all whiny and scared. I want to bring scary back.") Maybe some were working on an art project, like the husband and wife behind the Wasco Clown spotted in California in 2014...or like the teenagers copying the Wasco Clown after learning about it from social media, breathless broadcasts, and Uproxx listicles. Creepy clown named 'Gags' is freaking out Wisconsin town — FOX8 WGHP (@myfox8) August 5, 2016 During the 2014 Wasco Clown fiasco, copycat creepers were spotted in Bakersfield, California (where the news warned of scary clowns clamoring about town with baseball bats and knives but the only clown was caught was an unarmed 14-year-old who told police he was participating in a prank); Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Fishers, Indiana. Police in Fishers asked residents to report clown sightings but stressed that walking around in a clown costume wasn'[...]

HBO's Great Sunday Night Lineup Is a Tribute To Economic Freedom

Sun, 28 Aug 2016 17:30:00 -0400

Don't even think about bothering me between 9 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. tonight. I'll be parked on my couch, staying up way too late watching HBO's great Sunday night lineup: The Night Of, Ballers, Vice Principals, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. These shows perfectly capture why the premium cable channel remains about the last redoubt of "appointment television" in a world of endlessly proliferating on-demand options. Years after shows such as Oz, Sex & the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and other programs set new standards for TV, HBO still manages to produce politically, culturally, and sexually charged content that makes us want to drop whatever we're doing and watch on a network's schedule rather than our own. The main reason for this is one of the least-appreciated: Because you pay for it, HBO is free to engage issues and perspectives that other cable channels shy away from out of fear of alienating advertisers, viewers, and government or industry buttinskies. No matter how racy or edgy, say, Comedy Central, FX, TBS, or Cartoon Network's Adult Swim can get (which is plenty, thank god), they're all still bounded by appeals to common decency if not necessarily appeals to the lowest common denominator. Something tells me that Mike Lindell, the ubiquitous-on-cable inventor of My Pillow, doesn't want his spots to be bookended by the profanity, nudity, and seriously adult situations Girls serves up on a regular basis. The broadcast networks might be freer than ever from governmental content regulation, but they still lag far behind even basic cable in terms of serving up shows that actually cater to adult sensibilities without flinching. Charging a cover means that HBO's shows can use adult language and situations not simply to titillate but to reflect how we actually live, talk, and think in the 21st century—and whatever century Game of Thrones is set in. Real Time with Bill Maher sets the standard for political gabfests not simply because he routinely pulls in guests from all over the political spectrum but because you can freely curse on the show. Seriously, how can anybody with half a brain discuss the 2016 election without going full Tourette's sooner or later? (Disclosure: Matt Welch and I appear on the show.) But HBO's expressive freedom consists of much more than blue language and nude scenes. Back in the 1980s, HBO's awful anthology show The Hitchhiker defined the appeal of premium cable. Each half-hour episode revolved around not just a terrible, Twilight Zone-style plot twist but a single strategically bared breast. Indeed, the real dramatic tension was when and to what ridiculous lengths the producers would go to provide a pretext for a flash of skin. That was then. The police procedural The Night Of, which closes out its eight-episode season on Sunday, plumbs the intersection of race, class, and law with a grit and unsettling violence that is seen nowhere else on small screen. Starting off as a shaggy-dog story involving a Pakistani-American college kid boosting his father's cab and picking up a seeming dream girl, the first episode ends with a night of drug-fueled sex, murder, and arrests. As the plot unfolds, we navigate a world that is filled with overlapping and contradictory ethnic enmities, well-intentioned but blinkered law enforcement, and less and less moral clarity. Ballers is superficially a bawdy dramedy about a former football star turned financial manager (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) whose ambition is outstripped by his talents. True to its locker-room roots, there's more than a little rough talk but there's also a frank and compelling tension between typically white agents and black clients. It's also one [...]

The Man Who Turned Beauty into an Actual Cult

Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Holy Hell. CNN. Thursday, September 1, 9 p.m. One man's cult is another man's religion. I remember listening with amusement some years back to an argument between a member of Rev. Moon's Unification Church and a rather strident Christian critic who was fulminating on the obvious absurdity of the reverend's (ambiguous) claim to be the messiah. Why would God, the man snapped, choose a peasant from a remote Korean mountainside village as his messenger? Replied the Moon follower, wide-eyed: "You mean, instead of an illiterate Palestinian carpenter?" So I'm always dubious about the loose use of the word "cults," and even more so about their supposed dangers. As a second-generation atheist, it's not so obvious to me why, say, Rev. Moon's communal group homes are any more sinister than cloistered Catholic monasteries. I say all that so you'll know that when I tell you that Holy Hell, a documentary about a creepily eccentric spiritual community led by an extra from Rosemary's Baby, is aberrantly fascinating and more than a bit unsettling, I'm not just weirded out by the unfamiliar rituals of an off-brand religion. Buddhafield, as the group is called, has left a trail of disillusioned followers with broken hearts and busted bank accounts in its churning wake. One of them is Will Allen, the writer and director of Holy Hell, which has been kicking around the festival circuit this year and gets its first mass exposure next week on CNN. Allen spent 22 years as Buddhafield's house videographer and propagandist before breaking away in 2007, taking with him countless hours of revealing footage. Allen, a recent film-school grad trying to break into the movie business, was introduced to Buddhafield by a sister who bumped into some of the followers in West Hollywood in the mid-80s. They didn't have any of the standard cult accoutrements—no shaved heads or flowing robes or saffron incense. In fact, they were mostly socially conventional and startlingly attractive (that, it would turn out, was not by chance) and formed a lively, funny crowd. "Constantly, your soul was being fed with love and inspiration and awe," wistfully recalls another new recruit of the day. Buddhafield's leader was an elfin former ballet dancer and bit-role actor—you can see him in the crowd at that Satanist party at the end of Rosemary's Baby—who called himself Michel. Frequently clad in little more than a Speedo, striking dramatic poses and leveling smoky gazes apparently stolen from old Valentino movies while he spoke in an intriguing accent of indeterminate national origin, he preached a blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age mysticism that the West Hollywood crowd found irresistible. ("His energy was still, and I thought, 'What a beautiful man,'" explains one follower in the fractured argot of the spiritually overdosed.) Pretty soon they'd all moved into a communal setting from which radio, TV, and sex were banned. (And especially the wages of sex; pregnant women either had to undergo abortions or leave the group.) Compulsory hypnotherapy, in which the Buddhafielders had to disclose their most intimate secrets, took place once a week, at $50 a pop. "Service" was required, too, especially to Michel, who needed drivers, helpers and, after a while, somebody to carry his throne, literally. What service was directed outside the group itself was often hilariously misconceived. One acolyte who hadn't yet moved in with the group recounts spending hours creating artistic fruit salad renditions of scenes like The Last Supper for his roommate, only to discover the guy was simply shoveling them into a blender for smoothies without so much as a glance. The most assiduous of Michel's devotees we[...]