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Published: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 15:32:15 -0500


Australian Zombie Drama Takes Decidedly Different Journey

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500

Glitch. Available now on Netflix. Check your metabolic privilege, breather. Not all zombies are desiccated, intestine-dragging, brain-eating ragamuffins. In French television's 2012 Les Revenants and the 2015 A&E remake The Returned, reanimated corpses on missions of reconciliation and revenge were cute as bugs and no meaner than your average reality-show contestant. And the most-bootlegged unsuccessful pilot in Hollywood history was for a proposed 2007 CBS series called Babylon Fields, starring Amber Tamblyn, in which the zombies were presented as the next stage of human evolution, complete with undead super-libidos. Joining the zombies-are-people-too club is Glitch, an oddly engaging little show from Australian television now streaming on Netflix. Though its opening scene—naked corpses (Aussies apparently prefer their interments commando-style) clawing their way out of a rural graveyard under a full moon—gives every indication of being yet another homage to/ripoff of George Romero, all bets are off the rest of the way. For one thing, there's no suggestion that the reanimation phenomenon is taking place anywhere but Yoorana, the country village better known to locals as "the ass-end of the ass-end of the world." Nor are all the dead returning, only a handful. They arise without being able to remember anything at all, even how to speak. But their memories improve with time (the breakthrough is especially quick for the thirst for beer), and clues to their identities emerge, though without shedding much light on what's happening. One craggy old man, glancing at a statue of the Yoorana's 19th century founder, exclaims, "That's me! I'm the fookin' mayor!" Another turns out to be an Italian immigrant, shot while escaping a World War II detention camp. For some, recognition is much quicker: A cop called to the cemetery to investigate what he assumes is the aftermath of an all-night bender is stunned to see his wife walking toward him, two years after he buried her. The cop's reaction—following a short burst of violent denial, he takes his wife to their old rendezvous spot in a park, where they lie on their backs and gaze at the stars—is a big part of what makes Glitch an interesting piece of work. Yoorana's living, confronted with the impossible, shrug in stoic acceptance and make the best of it. A doctor, told the patient she's examining died years ago, replies that that was then, this is now: "I've taken this woman's blood pressure, and she's not dead." The dead themselves seem scarcely more disturbed. When the cops ask one woman—who has just awakened, mossy and muddy, in an open grave—if she can remember her name, she tartly replies: "What business is it of yours?" This matter-of-fact acceptance of the absurd or impossible has long been an element of Australian comedies, particularly Wilfred, in which a morose young lawyer awakens from a suicide attempt to discover the neighbor's puppy now appears to him as a conspiracy-minded man ("Why do you think no dogs died in the Holocaust? Because we knew it was coming!") in a dogsuit. Uncertain whether he's in grips of a drug-induced hallucination, a prolonged death rattle, or some sketchy version of the hereafter, the lawyer just decides to go with the flow. Glitch adapts the formula to drama with considerable success, with help from a capable cast of Australian TV veterans, including Patrick Brammall and Emma Booth as the policeman and his zombie wife. That doesn't mean Glitch isn't spooky. What summoned the dead back and why remains a mystery, only deepened by some spectacularly grisly evidence that their new-found health isn't necessarily permanent. And there are domestic complications, too, as the dead learn that, despite assurances from their spouses, love isn't usually eternal. "When someone you've already said goodbye to comes back in your life," muses the cop, "what does it mean?" Nothing good.[...]

NPR Does Alex Jones

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 21:13:00 -0500

All Things Considered's David Folkenflik did a report today on the conspiracy-chasing talk-show host Alex Jones. Because I wrote a book about conspiracy theories, I was one of the people Folkenflik interviewed. You can listen to it here:

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Folkenflik's story leads with last weekend's PizzaGate shooting, in which an Alex Jones fan fired a rifle in a D.C. pizza joint because he believed child sex slaves were being held there. But Folkenflik interviewed me on Friday—two days before the incident—so I didn't say anything about that. Instead I'm quoted on the general contours of Jones' worldview. The written version of the report extends my cameo a little longer than it lasts on the radio, adding a line that contrasts my thoughts on Jones' politics with the Southern Poverty Law Center's views on the topic.

When I was chatting with Folkenflik, I mentioned that if I ever write a profile of Jones, the two people I'd most want to interview for it are the filmmakers Richard Linklater and Mike Judge. Linklater put Jones in his 2001 movie Waking Life, and it's a rather interesting scene to watch now that Jones has attracted national notoriety. Jones is generally understood as a "right-wing" guy, and I understand why that's so. (He certainly isn't a leftist.) But he slips easily into the Phildickian film's countercultural worldview, condemning "dehumanization," "classism," "systems of control," and "this corporate slave state" as he drives through a dreamscape:

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And Judge? Jones conducted a chummy interview with the Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill creator back in 2013. It's a pretty fascinating conversation, especially when the talk turns to Dale Gribble, King of the Hill's resident conspiracy theorist. Dale, Judge chuckles, "probably gives you guys a bad name":

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It's not easy to imagine, say, Rush Limbaugh delivering the rant in the first video or the interview in the second. Any accounting of Alex Jones' worldview—and of the place he occupies in our cultural terrain—needs to consider the question of what people like Linklater and Judge see in the man, and vice versa.

Obligatory advertisement: As I said at the top, I wrote a book about conspiracy stories. It's called The United States of Paranoia, and if you find this stuff interesting you may find the book interesting too. But I should probably note upfront that it mentions Jones just once, and only fleetingly at that.

HBO Documentaries Illuminate Castro’s Brutal Cuba

Sat, 03 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500

Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death. HBO. Sunday, December 4, 9:45 a.m. Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution. HBO. Tuesday, December 6, 5 p.m. HBO should get a little trophy from the television industry for giving executives something to talk about at holiday parties besides falling ratings and the specific level of Hell that should be reserved for whoever invented this internet thing. Instead, they can ponder over the question: Is HBO's documentary division the most genius outfit in television, or just the luckiest? Months ago, HBO acquired two unheralded documentaries on Cuba, then booked them for the very moment when Fidel Castro would head off to the great workers' collective in the sky. Water-cooler buzz galore, Latin American Policy Wonk Department. And if that department had an Emmy, Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death would win it right now. First-time director Olatz López Garmendia is better known as a model and a fashion designer, but she must have had a career in operating heavy construction equipment, too, because Patria O Muerte takes a merciless wrecking ball to the Potemkin Village imagery of Cuba promoted by most of the American chattering class. The desolation and despair of Castro's Revolution—its actually existing socialism, as Marxist theoreticians of the 1950s would have called it—has never been on such devastating display for American audiences. Garmendia lived in Cuba as a child, when her Spaniard parents joined the flocks of European Fidel groupies moving to Havana to stand by their man, but she clearly didn't swallow the Kool-Aid; Patria O Muerte is not her first demythology project on Cuba. She also informed the sensibilities of her then-husband, Julian Schnabel, when he was making his epic anti-Castro movie Before Night Falls. (Garmendia worked on the film as music supervisor.) She made Patria O Muerte as something of a samizdat work; the film was shot without Cuban authorization, and she had a devil of a time getting the footage off the island. Without narration and little archival footage, Patria O Muerte makes its points through a series of interviews of ordinary Cubans, filmed in their seedy tenement apartments in Old Havana. The stories they tell, with only occasional exceptions, are not of lurid torture or persecution, but of the quiet desperation of life in a dead-end society weighed down by decay of every type: economic, physical, mental. There's a cadaverous old man named Julio who bluntly declares his life useless and is clearly talking about more than his grubby apartment when he responds to a question: "What am I missing? Everything." Or Valery, a goth transvestite who took to the streets as a jinatera, as the island's part-time hookers are known, after the remittances from a sister in the United States dried up and she found herself without enough money to buy a new toothbrush. That career ended, though, one night after she was lectured by a tourist whose appreciation for cheap commercial sex had not diminished his more-revolutionary-than-thou ardor for the Castro regime. He told her that "Cubans were shameless, that Cubans said they had problems, when there weren't any problems in Cuba." Retorted Valery: "If that's true, then what am I doing here with you for $20?" She left the streets, fearful that she was "about to kill [herself], or kill one of these foreigners." Or Mercedes, a housewife living in a tottering building built in the 1870s in which she must sleep with one eye open to avoid being hit by chunks of falling masonry. Her young son, injured in a balcony collapse, needs surgery, but building repairs make it impossible: "If we buy cement, then we can't buy food or medicine." An aphorism which, oddly, didn't make it into Sicko, Michael Moore's encomium to the Cuban health-care system. Garmendia shot some interviews with dissidents, too, including rogue blogger Yoani Sanchez, whose contribution of an audio tape of her 2010 detention by men without uniforms or credentials is by far the most c[...]

When Fidel Castro Went on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:32:00 -0500

Fidel Castro ousted Fulgencio Batista's regime on January 1, 1959. Within a little more than a month, he had promoted his revolution on both The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. That Tonight Show interview—a warm conversation with then-host Jack Paar—doesn't seem to be online, so you'll have to take my word when I tell you just how strange it looks from the vantage point of 2016. But Sullivan's segment has been preserved on YouTube, and it's one hell of a the-past-is-another-country artifact. Sullivan opens by asking Fidel about his religion (Castro replies that he was raised a Catholic) and inquires about what sports the guerrilla leader used to play ("undoubtedly the exercise you did at school prepared you for this role"). Then it's on to exchanges like this one: SULLIVAN: In Latin American countries, over and over again, dictators will come along. They rape the country; they have stolen the money, millions and millions of dollars; tortured and killed people. How do you propose to end that here in Cuba? CASTRO: Very easy: not permitting any dictatorship to come again to rule our country. By the end of the interview, Sullivan has compared Castro to George Washington: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> My point in sharing this isn't to mock Sullivan. (Or Paar, who later joked: "I interviewed Fidel Castro once and he immediately turned anti-American. Of course, it may have been coincidental.") With hindsight, I know that Castro would himself soon be a self-enriching dictator who tortured and killed people. But without hindsight, I probably would have been enthusiastic about the Cuban revolution at that point too. Lots of people were enthusiastic: The rebels had just ousted a thuggish tyrant, and it wasn't yet obvious that they were about to establish a different flavor of tyranny. When you watch that interview, take it as a glimpse at how Castro looked to many Americans right after he came to power. Over the next decade, that support gradually fell away. By the time Castro proclaimed himself a Marxist-Leninist in 1961, he had lost most of his mainstream boosters. The hip lefties stuck with him for a while after that (listen to a young Bob Dylan singing "Who Killed Davey Moore" at Carnegie Hall in 1963, and check out the crowd's vigorous response when he invokes "Cuba's door/where boxing ain't allowed no more"), and much of the New Left spent the '60s imagining Cuba as an alternative to the Soviet model. But a steady drip-drip of ugly developments, especially Castro's endorsement of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, lost him a lot of those New Left fans. By the '70s, overt support for Castro was much less common. It was still around, mind you—in 1975, Francis Ford Coppola wrote but never sent the dictator a letter that began with the words "Dear Fidel, I love you"—but it was considerably more rare than it had been in the '60s, let alone in those first months of 1959. But it never disappeared. As a college student, back around 1989, I befriended the sole active member of Michigan's chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. (I was, for all practical purposes, the sole active member of the student libertarian group, so we had that in common.) He sincerely believed in human rights and civil liberties; so when he gave a presentation on campus about a trip he'd just taken to Cuba, he took care to mention some of the more unsavory facts about the regime—remarking, for example, that it was forcibly confining people with HIV. At that point an old fart by the wall piped up. "They're not imprisoned," he said. "They're quarantined." When I saw the apologetics that greeted Castro's death over the weekend, I thought of that guy. * * * * * Bonus links: I'd like to report that libertarians saw through the Castro regime quickly, and for the most part they did. But there was an element that enjoyed the romantic vision of an island standing up [...]

Amazon Delivers Trio of Trite Christmas Stories

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 15:00:00 -0500

If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie. Available Friday, November 25, on Amazon Prime. The Snowy Day. Available Friday, November 25, on Amazon Prime. An American Girl Story – Maryellen 1955: Extraordinary Christmas. Available Friday, November 25, on Amazon Prime. I used to eagerly await the annual crop of Christmas movies and TV shows. And I still light up with a soft glow like a bulb on the tree when I watch the seasonal classics of my childhood. Who can resist watching dull little Bedford Falls transformed into the glorious, neon-lit hookers-and-pawnshops urban landscape of Pottersville in It's A Wonderful Life? Or sniffling away a sad tear or two at the martyrdom of the visionary Mr. Potter in the film's lost ending? Whether it was yuletide zombies, ill-mannered Norwegians, or a jolly Santa Claus blasting Satan in the butt with a cannon, I was endlessly enchanted. But those days have passed. Today's children being the overprotected little snowflake dorks they are, Christmas shows for them are nightmarish descents into robotic multicultural tedium that make me long for the bony embrace of the best Ghost of Christmas Future ever in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Amazon Prime has appointed itself the Official Network of Christmas Lobotomization this year, releasing three heinous little shows that parents can prop their kids (or, possibly, tie them down) in front of as they join the Black Friday throngs overrunning shopping malls. If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie is an animated version of Merry Christmas, Mouse, part of a line of children's books that started in the mid-1980s with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and then devolved into a series of increasingly horrifying tales of vermin entitlement that led through cookies, muffins, pancakes, and movie tickets, ending, probably, in the not-too-distant future with If You Give a Mouse Full Second Amendment Rights. The plot, such as it is, consists of an anthropomorphic rodent gnawing on a Christmas cookie, then rampaging around first a house and then a school in the grips of an acute Noelian psychosis, breaking stuff and spouting aphorisms ("If your friend gets stuck in a barn on Christmas Eve, then you gotta get him out no matter what") that the Developmental Psychology Police apparently believe are indispensible to living a useful life. There are lots of original songs, the most melodious and spiritually sensitive recorded since the final, dying starburst of rock'n'roll in 1970. Eventually the mouse is joined by a similarly inclined pig, dog, moose and just about every other other anthropoid ever animated short of South Park's Mr. Hankey, the singing, dancing Christmas Poo. Even the most simple-minded kid (and of course I'm referring to your neighbor's kid, not yours) is likely to find this lethally boring after about the first five minutes. If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie does threaten to lapse into mild interestingness for a moment about midway through when the mouse asks the boss at a Christmas-tree lot for a free tree. "I'm a tree salesman, not a tree-giver-awayer," he snaps, but then, naturally, is so mortified at the cruel vision of a mouse without its own Christmas tree that he erupts into a fit of altruism that would cause Ayn Rand to set her own hair on fire. My only comfort was the possibility that the Health Nazis, horrified at the specter of children sharing their cookies with epidemical vectors, will launch their own series of playful specials: When a Mouse Gives You Bubonic Plague, When a Mouse Gives You Hantavirus... . The Snowy Day, Amazon Prime's other animated Christmas special, is based on the groundbreaking 1962 children's picture book about a little boy experiencing small adventures as he wanders around a snowed-under Brooklyn on Christmas Eve. Though the text didn't mention it, the illustrations made it clear that Peter was black, the first African-American protagonist in a full-color picture book. Back then the book was widely admi[...]

This Awkward Search Party May Be Worth Joining

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 15:00:00 -0500

Search Party. TBS. Monday, November 21, 11 p.m. Viewers wondering if they should give the bleakly satirical TBS comedy Search Party a try can certainly be forgiven if they get the impression that the network is kicking them under the table and mouthing "don't bother." Modeled on indie films not only in its grimy photography and elliptical plotting but its penurious budgeting—the closest thing to a marketable star is Alia Shawkat, part of the ensemble cast of the decade-old cult favorite Arrested Development—Search Party is not so much being aired as burned off, two episodes at a time, at 11 p.m. every night during Thanksgiving week. Don't let the lid hit you on your head as we lower your coffin into the grave, fellows. What's strange about this (well, okay, almost everything is strange about this, but especially strange) is that if you give it a chance, Search Party is kind of weirdly endearing, in a misanthropic, foul-mouthed sort of way. If you've ever wondered why all your friends are self-important sociopaths, Search Party may be the show you've been waiting for all your life. At the center of Search Party is a group of superciliously narcissistic college friends nearing the end of their 20s whose pathological self-absorption leaves them happily blinded to the fact that their supposedly fast-track career paths have veered into the breakdown lane. The single exception is Dory, played by Shawkat, the cunning, irascible teenager with incestuous designs on her cousin in Arrested Development. She has a dawning awareness that inside the group she's a doormat and outside even less: "You're not even equipped to teach tic-tac-toe," snaps a charity manager when she volunteers to mentor teenage girls. Dory is even feeling the stirrings of disenchantment with her tight little social circle, which includes Drew, her pampered, clueless boyfriend (John Reynolds, Stranger Things); Elliott, a preening designer who runs a charity that supplies designer water-bottles to sub-Saharan Africa (John Early, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising); and Portia, a bit actress and walking blonde joke (Meredith Wagner, Royal Palms). Disenchantment turns to rebellion when Dory finds herself inexplicably moved at the news that a college acquaintance named Chantal has ominously gone missing. Her friends' reactions range from bored shrugs to open hostility. "She sucked!" shouts one. "She was always brushing her hair in public!" With a surprising, if tentative, stubbornness, Dory pushes the crew into a grudging pursuit of the mystery. Like the hunt for Chantal, Search Party moves fitfully in its early stages, when it's more a series of bitterly etched sketches than a cohesive narrative. But the preening egomania of its characters becomes easier to laugh at as they acquire a few trappings of humanity. And the show gains momentum as the vanished Chantal turns from a Hitchcockian MacGuffin—a device of no importance except to trigger the plot—into a genuine mystery. The show's progression also makes it clear that the pugnacious self-absorption of Dory's friends is not trendy TV millennial-bashing but merely one more malevolent element of a hostile universe. In the unhinged world of Search Party, a subway passenger reading Anna Karenina is likely to be accosted by a strap-hanger who leans close to murmur, "I'll save you 400 pages, she dies at the end." A neighbor who timidly offers shelter to an abused wife is rewarded with a shriek: "Get the fuck out, you baby-cocked bitch!" Perhaps the reason the characters in Search Party spend so much time in front of mirrors is that they're wondering if the person they see there is, like everybody else, out to get them.[...]

Who Knew Traveling to Mars Could Seem So Dull?

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 15:00:00 -0500

Mars. National Geographic Channel. Monday, November 14, 9 p.m. Over the years, Hollywood has populated Mars with hungry bat-rat-spiders, horny little bald guys, decapitationist ghosts, and even dorky little nerd children who look like Pia Zadora. But now, the National Geographic Channel's miniseries Mars will change forever the way we think about the planet, for it boldly goes where no man has gone before, into the very cosmic bowels of tedium and ennui. A weird attempt to blend documentary and sci-fi, Mars is an exquisite botch of both. Its only real accomplishment is to set back the reputation of executive producer Ron Howard to the days when he was murdering the mommies of adorable little baby birds on The Andy Griffith Show. Mars is structured, to use a far more elegant term than is actually warranted, as a mockumentary about a manned mission to Mars in 2033. About half the show is devoted to the fictional mission, half to the real work of "pioneers" in the field, particularly Elon Musk and his mercantilist interplanetary-colonization SpaceX boondoggle, for which Mars often seems a cruelly overlong infomercial. The National Geographic Channel has been bragging that the mockumentary mix "will redefine television storytelling by combining feature film-quality scripted drama and visual effects with best-in-class documentary sequences to drive forward a cohesive, edge-of-your-seat story." I'd say it will more likely redefine Hollywood accounting practices by substituting mundane interviews for scripts and action sequences, and obviating the need for actors with emotional ranges much beyond those of the faces on Mount Rushmore. Both halves of Mars consist largely of talking heads heaped upon talking heads, and not in an interesting Khmer Rouge way. The "pioneers" mostly seem to be vying for the title of King of the Obvious. Genuflect before the insight of Neil deGrasse Tyson, who observes that Mars "is more hostile to life than any place on Earth," courageously defying the common wisdom that a near-vacuum atmosphere devoid of oxygen and nighttime temperatures of a hundred below zero are practically synonyms for "live long and prosper." The fictional side of the show is, if anything, worse, consisting largely of interviews like this one, in which the astronauts are questioned about their captain. Reporter: "Who is Ben Sawyer?" Astronaut No. 1, in profound tone: "Ben Sawyer is our commander." Astronaut No. 2, in even more profound tone: "Ben Sawyer is a member of the team." Those astronauts have names, by the way, but there's no need to keep track of them; characterizations in Mars do not even rise to the level of cardboard, more like a sodden wad of toilet paper. The belabored cast includes Ben Cotton (Battlestar Galactica), Alberto Ammann (Narcos), Robert Foucault (Django Unchained) and Korean-American rocker JiHae playing twins, or maybe triplets—who can tell? To the extent the cast escapes the omnipresent interviews for a story, it doesn't amount to much. The crew gets in a rocket and flies to Mars; stuff breaks; they fix it; or they don't. There are occasional scenes of the astronauts trooping around the awesome Martian landscape, shot in Morocco, but certainly no more awesome than those shot in Jordan for Matt Damon's 2015 marooned-in-space drama The Martian, which was a more engaging work in every way. For that matter, a NASA reality show would be more engaging. Remember Lisa Nowak, the astronaut who outfitted herself with a BB gun, a two-pound mallet, pepper spray, surgical tubing and absorbent diapers—so she wouldn't have to make any bathroom stops—and then drove 900 miles and five states to straighten out a rival for the affections of another space cadet? Oh, wait. Her lawyer says the part about the diapers is "an absolute fabrication" and those were just pee-soaked diapers her kids left in the car a couple of years earlier. Well, as Emily Litella[...]

Get Your Tabloid Television On and Revisit Serial Killers, Karen Carpenter

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 15:30:00 -0400

Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love. Reelz. Saturday, November 5, 9 p.m. People Magazine Investigates: The Long Island Serial Killer. Investigation Discovery. Monday, November 7, 9 p.m. With the world a good bet to end Tuesday—at least, if we're lucky—this is not the week to be wasting your dwindling time on esoteric PBS costume dramas or earnest public-access-channel poetry slams. Go with your primal instincts and wallow in tabloid culture as God and Jerry Springer intended. The purest essence of tabloidiana, of course, is the true-crime show, a cruelly underserved market in the United States. It's hard to believe we've gotten along all these years on a thin diet of Forensic Files, Dateline NBC, The First 48, Wives with Knives, The Hunt with John Walsh, Dead Silent, Swamp Murders, and a scant two dozen others. Fear not, though. People Magazine Investigates, in which the Woodward-and-Bernstein of botched boob jobs and celebrity liposuction turns its keen journalistic eye on crime with the same relentless energy with which it has pursued The Sexiest Man Alive and 100 Most Beautiful People all these many decades. People's true-crime adventures start with a two-hour episode on a serial killer known variously as the Gilgo Beach Killer (for the remote coastal strip of Long Island where he's stashed some of his bodies) or the Craigslist Ripper (for the place he apparently found his victims in the escort-service ads). As homicidal maniacs go, the Gilgo Beach Killer isn't a bad candidate for true-crime TV investiture. Between 2007 and 2010, he strangled (not ripped; the true-crime community isn't over-obsessed with literalism) at least four women working as escorts, then wrapped their bodies in burlap and hid them in the brush just off the beach. Because the women all disappeared from different jurisdictions—and perhaps also because missing hookers aren't necessarily a high police priority—nobody even realized a serial killer was at work until a fifth escort suffered a paranoid meltdown while at the home of a client near Gilgo Beach and ran off into the night, babbling that "they" were plotting to kill her. The search for that woman, 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, led to the discovery of the other four victims—and, eventually, six other bodies not necessarily connected to the Gilgo Beach Killer. Serial killers apparently compose one of the major local demographics, and I'd guess it won't be long before they're pressing for tax breaks, crop subsidies, and speech codes establishing their right to be referred to as de-metabolizers rather than murderers. Unfortunately, People magazine's long immersion in what might be termed the soft-core side of tabloid culture ("FAMILY SECRETS: BRAD AND ANGELINA'S EMOTIONAL BATTLE OVER THEIR KIDS!") has left it without ability to generate the clipped, quasi-sociopathic narrative punch necessary for a story like this. The show can't even sort out which of the victims died at the hands of the Gilgo Beach De-metabolizer, much less anything about him. The script has more potholes than a Bill de Blasio freeway, including an off-handed mention near the end that one of the main on-screen interviewees got murdered a couple of months ago by the sister of one of the victims. In the end, I drew two lessons: 1) despite what you probably think, there's a lot more to true-crime shows than cheesy recreations and mournfully tinkling piano riffs, and 2) the CDC should forget about zika and try to find a vaccine for whatever they've got in Gilgo Beach. If true-crime is the meat and potatoes of tabloidiana, anorexia show-biz martyrs are its dessert, to coin a really unfortunate metaphor. Cue to the Reelz cable channel's documentary Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love, a breathlessly melancholy account of the crack-up of the soprano balladeer who starved herself to death in 1983, leaving behind a body that was "77 pounds of de[...]

Documentary Recalls Horrors of Korean War

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

American Experience: The Battle of Chosin. PBS. Tuesday, November 1, 9 p.m. When the Chinese mortar shell exploded, it sent the American soldier hurtling through the air, his body savaged but his mind eerily dreamy as he fell back to earth, cataloging the carnage surrounding him. He took particular note of a severed limb casually askew on the ground. "Some poor guy lost a leg," the soldier thought to himself sadly. When he tried to stand, the dream blinked back to reality: The poor guy without a leg was him. So it goes in The Battle of Chosin, an episode of the PBS documentary series American Experience airing November 1. It's a series of postcards—surreal, grisly, terrifying—from a largely forgotten battle in the mostly unremembered war that the United States fought in Korea from 1950 to 1953. For two weeks beginning in late November 1950, a U.S.-commanded force of nearly 15,000 men, mostly U.S. Marines, fought its way out of an encirclement of 120,000 Chinese troops near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The combat, at such close quarters that the fighting was often hand-to-hand, took place on steep, craggy mountain terrain ("you had two directions to go in Korea, that was either straight up or straight down, recalls one American soldier) in temperatures that plunged to 50 degrees below zero on some nights. It was a frozen killing field so gruesome that the soldiers interviewed in The Battle of Chosin are often reduced to ghastly free association in their attempts to describe it: "Grotesque. ... Horrible. Nightmare." Producer-director Randall MacLowry and writer Mark Zwonitzer, though both American Experience veterans (together and separately, they've chronicled everything from the creation of Silicon Valley to the campaign to stamp out polio), have little experience in making military documentaries. That doesn't show at all in The Battle of Chosin, which dexterously alternates between broad discussions of strategy and grunt's-eye-view of the fighting on the ground. They've assembled a truly awesome collection of archival footage and still photographs; as grim and exhausting as the battle got, military combat photographers apparently never put down their cameras. Battle opens with a quick, deft summary of the outbreak of the Korean War five months earlier. North Korean troops poured across the border, quickly captured Seoul and within a few weeks were on the verge of driving out U.S. and South Korean forces. But American commander Douglas MacArthur's risky decision to launch an amphibious assault behind the North Korean lines broke the communist offensive, sending them in headlong retreat north with U.S. forces in hot pursuit. As Thanksgiving approached, American troops were nearing the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China, and U.S. forces were so totally in control that American planes were ferrying turkey and dressing rather than bombs and bullets to the front. Though there were some nervous voices in Washington—including that of President Truman himself—expressing worries that China might intervene on behalf of the shattered North Korean army, MacArthur dismissed the Chinese as a "peasant army" that would crumble in the face of American military technology. Even when American troops traded some sporadic shots with infiltrated Chinese soldiers—their distinctive quilted uniforms made them easy to recognize—U.S. commanders were unconcerned. The spearhead of the drive on the Yalu was the 1st U.S. Marine Division, augmented by smaller units of the U.S. and South Korean army, arrayed in a semi-circle around the Chosin Reservoir on the eve of an offensive that their commanders had promised them would end the war by Christmas. Instead, they were awakened the night of Nov. 27 by a series of murderous human-wave attacks by a Chinese force that would number at least 60,000 soldiers[...]

'This Is Your Brain on Drugs' Guy Supports Marijuana Legalization

Wed, 26 Oct 2016 06:30:00 -0400

(image) In a recent Pew Research Center survey, Americans born between 1928 and 1945 (a.k.a. the Silent Generation) were the only age cohort in which a majority still supported marijuana prohibition. But the survey also found that support for legalization within this group has quadrupled since the late 1980s, meaning that millions of Silent Generation members have changed their minds about marijuana since then. One of them, it turns out, is John Roselius, the actor best known to Americans who came of age during the Reagan administration for his role in the iconic, moronic "This Is Your Brain on Drugs" ad. Last week Roselius, now 72, told The Rooster, a Colorado magazine, he was "100 percent behind" legalization and had just voted for it in California (which has early voting).

Roselius said he was paid just $360 for his work on the 1987 public service announcement, which was produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The 30-second version shows Sebelius standing in a kitchen, his arms folded as he leans against a cabinet. "Is there anyone out there who still isn't clear about what doing drugs does?" he asks. "OK. Last time." He picks up an egg and announces, "This is your brain." He points at a hot frying pan on the stove and says, "This is drugs." He cracks the egg into the pan and as it sizzles holds the pan up, saying, "This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

There were in fact a lot of questions, starting with "WTF?" Also: "Does anyone really expect such over-the-top scare tactics to deter curious adolescents from trying drugs?" And: "Can I get that with a side of bacon?" In 2006 the Partnership for a Drug-Free America bragged that "the 'Fried Egg' TV message was so popular that it was satirized and spoofed on T-shirts, records labels, posters, and even on Saturday Night Live." If they're mocking us, we must be getting through to them!

Roselius told CBC Radio he was "very sincere" about the generic anti-drug message at the time, although he also acknowledged that he had a serious drinking problem back then. Now sober 28 years, Roselius said his in-laws, who used marijuana instead of opioids for pain and voted for legalization in Washington state, played a key role in persuading him that cannabis should be legal. He still accepts prohibitionist propaganda about other illegal drugs. He told The Rooster "mushrooms are bad" and LSD makes people "jump out the fifth-story window."

Roselius, who has appeared in movies such as Space Jam, Con Air, and The Truman Show, said he was dismayed that the fried-egg ad, which he expected to run for six months or so, was still being aired more than a decade later. "To this day," The Rooster notes, "people on the street still call him 'Egg Guy.'"

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A Trump Voter Plays ‘Black Jeopardy’: Watch This Politically Incorrect, Weirdly Moving SNL Skit

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 08:30:00 -0400

An amazing skit from the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live offers a glimmer of hope that our national political dialogue can still be salvaged once this unrelentingly divisive and demoralizing campaign season is done. Like a lot of good satire, the skit is politically incorrect, relying on stereotypes that the social-justice-left might find upsetting. And yet it says something important about our common humanity. And it's funny! That's the most important thing. Background: "Black Jeopardy," hosted by Kenan Thompson, is a recurring skit on SNL. In this old, representative episode, white person Louis CK is pitted against two black contestants, and fails miserably to answer impossible questions that are hyper-specific to black culture and language. (Answer: "She think she cute." Question: "Who is Monique?") Now watch Saturday's episode, in which the third contestant is a white dude wearing a Make America Great Again hat played by Tom Hanks. The joke, of course, is that Hanks' character "Doug," despite being a Trump supporter—and all the malicious backwardness that implies—is actually more clued-in to the show's logic than Louis CK's character, and has more in common with the black contestants than one might expect. Doug, for instance, is able to successfully answer "They out here saying, the new iPhone wants your thumbprint 'for your protection,'" with "What is 'I don't think so, that's how they get you?'" "Yes!" Thompson cheers. Black contestant Keeley nods in agreement. "I don't trust that," she says. "Me neither," says the third contestant, Shanice. Doug's winning streak continues. After Keeley correctly answers "Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween" to the question "They out here saying, this movie doesn't deserve an Oscar," Doug notes that he also enjoys the Madea movies, which prompts Thompson to shake his hand. The racial/ethnic/political harmony might be short-lived: the final Jeopardy category "Lives That Matter," draws the remark, "well, it was good while it lasted," from Thompson. The writing for this skit is clever and funny, and it actually makes a good point: Politics may try desperately to divide us, but people who have been carelessly written off into different interest groups can still share common interests far more meaningful than their party identification. Good on SNL for finding something profound and funny to say about Trump voters. Of course, it took practically no time at all for the left-of-center media to attempt to ruin the moment. Cue The Hill: "Tom Hanks Mocks Trump Supporters in 'SNL' Skit." Talk about missing the point: "Doug," a contestant on the game show "Black Jeopardy," sports a signature "Make America Great Again" hat. Hanks's character, a conspiracy theorist, distrusts the electoral system. "They out here saying that every vote counts," one of the questions in the game reads. "What is, 'C'mon, they already decided who wins, even before it happens,' " answers Hanks, who said earlier this month that he was "offended as a man" by Trump's lewd talk about groping women without their consent in a leaked video from 2005. The late-night comedy show appeared to be mocking Trump's claims that the election is being rigged against him. During the third presidential debate of 2016, the GOP nominee refused to say whether he would accept the results of the presidential election. The Hill's recap glosses over the fact that Doug's answer, "they already decided who wins, even before it happens," is the correct one. It draws an exuberant, "Yes! The Illuminati already figured that out months ago," from Thompson. SNL isn't mocking Doug's ignorance—it's suggesting one of two things: either that conspiracy theorizing is cross-ideological, or that the idea of a rigged election isn't totally insane, from the perspective of b[...]

CBS Limps to the Finish Line with Three Lackluster New Shows

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Man with a Plan. CBS. Monday, October 24, 8:30 p.m. The Great Indoors. CBS. Thursday, October 27, 8:30 p.m. Pure Genius. CBS. Thursday, October 27, 10 p.m. My chum and former editor Virginia Postrel once wrote a book called The Future and Its Enemies. If she watches TV this week, she'll undoubtedly add a new chapter on CBS. Its three new sitcoms all cling ferociously (if, in one case, hilariously) to the past. If this keeps up, CBS—where the age of the average viewer is already 59, by far the eldest of any broadcast net—will have to change its boastful slogan from The Tiffany Network to The Methuselah Network. Before we get into a detailed necropsy, it's worth noting that this is the final week of the fall TV season's rollout, delayed a bit at CBS until its Thursday-night football schedule wrapped up. There's no sign of a breakout hit among the new shows, and this final group of CBS stragglers is unlikely to change that. If anything, the madly contemptuous tone toward millennials that drips from every scathing frame of the sitcom The Great Indoors is liable to actually raise the average age of the CBS audience not just to Social Security-benefit age but to the point where undertakers are setting up tents on the front lawn. Joel McHale (Community) plays Jack, a ballsy and distinctly middle-aged adventure reporter who's surprised when his outdoors magazine calls him home from an assignment living among bears. If you work in the journalism biz these days, the conversation with his publisher that follows needs no spoiler alert: Outdoor Limits, his magazine, is teetering on bankruptcy. The print edition is folding, there's no money left for tramping around wolverine lairs, and Jack is being brought home to supervise a team of young Web rats—"the digital day-care division," as he labels it—who know lots about the click-bait potential of frolicking-kitten videos and hipster listicles on surviving a zombie apocalypse, nothing about journalism or living outdoors. On the other side of the divide, Jack's experience with the interwebs is limited to posting a dancing-baby video on his MySpace page two decades ago. What follows is predictably murderous. The easily triggered kids ("I got passed over for a promotion again? What do I have to do? I've been here eight weeks!") regard Jack as a prehistoric artifact—as one says, "a human version of dial-up." Marvels another: "He has no Twitter, no Facebook. It's like he doesn't exist." The head of the magazine's HR department commiserates with Jack—"sometimes I want to beat them senseless with their selfie sticks"—but bluntly warns him there's no escape. "They're the only reason any of us is still employed, so get used to it. Generational warfare has been a television staple at least since Archie Bunker and the Meathead went at it more than four decades ago in All in the Family. And, misopedist Baby Boomer that I am, I'll admit to laughing gleefully at a lot of the snowflake-kiddie jokes, not to mention the idea of peddling $12 "ironic Spam sandwiches" to hipsters. But The Great Indoors flouts the fundamental Geneva Convention rule of generation-gap humor—equal hostility towards all—in its relentlessly one-sided assault on millennials; virtually every line that draws blood comes at their expense. It doesn't require an overdeveloped sense of empathy to see that, for anybody under 40, the show is going to feel less like a comedic experience than the receiving end of a gang-bang. When the show was screened for TV critics this summer, a press conference with the cast and producers nearly turned into a fistfight. In the demographic-centric world of television, that's poisonous. The Great Indoors may turn out to be a historic moment, the Custer's Last Stand of Baby Boomer television, [...]

Mike Rowe Wears Trump’s Robe, Fights a Drone, and Solves the Labor Shortage

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:00:00 -0400

What's life like for Mike Rowe without a network television show? Since Somebody's Gotta Do It is no longer on CNN Rowe has had his privacy violated by a drone, the former host of Dirty Jobs survived the rumors of his own death swirling about the internet, and in the home stretch of an ugly presidential election, he worries more than ever about unemployment, the skills gap, and a widespread loss of meaning in American life. Yet Rowe himself remains more popular than ever. Days after Rowe read a letter from his mother detailing how she lost her purse at Wal-Mart, the post went hyperviral. It was seen by over 100 million people – "a third of the country!" he exclaims. "I've never seen anything like it," Rowe tells Reason TV, "I've talked to people at Facebook who said they've never seen anything like it." Rowe has also found a way to turn C.R.A.P – that's Collectibles, Rare and Precious – into philanthropy. His auction of a swanky Trump Tower bathrobe, signed by The Donald himself, fetched a cool $16,000 on eBay. The money then trickled down from the alleged billionaire to The Mike Rowe Works Foundation, which funds "work ethic scholarships" that provide out-of-luck workers with valuable skills for the modern economy. Nick Gillespie caught up with Mike Rowe in Nashville, Tennessee to chat about his affection for the Second Amendment, his adventures in podcasting, the 2016 election, the secret to extracting semen from a prize racehorse, and more. Produced by Todd Krainin. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Paul Detrick and Krainin. INTERVIEW CONTENTS 0:00 - Teaser. 0:45 - Intro. 1:05 - Naked Mike Rowe and a Mossberg 500 vs. a drone. 7:39 - What happened to Somebody's Gotta Do It? 11:34 - Have we lost touch with the important things in life? 15:50 - Work ethic scholarships. 18:56 - How to extract semen from a prize racehorse. 21:45 - Donald Trump's robe 23:33 - Thoughts on free trade. 31:02 - Thoughts on occupational licensure. 34:50 - The false choices of American life. 36:30 - The secret to a successful career: Love the hard work. 40:05 - The Way I Heard It and a massively popular letter from Rowe's mother. INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript. Check against video for accuracy. Nick Gillespie Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason TV and we are sitting down with Mike Rowe of the Mike Rowe Works Foundation and of recently of Somebody's Gotta Do It and Dirty Jobs. Mike Rowe, thanks for talking to Reason TV. Mike Rowe Last time I saw you, you were wearing that same jacket and I was wearing this same hat. Gillespie Well there you go. What goes around comes around. Now, the two headlines that you are most famous for most recently are 'Naked Mike Rowe' and 'Mike Rowe Dead' What uh why were you naked and how did that lead to you being dead? Rowe Well it's a big week. I was uh in the midst of what I thought was some bizarre gardening dream and in the dream uh a bumblebee was in my ear. And when I awakened I realized A: It wasn't a dream and B: It wasn't a bee. But there was a buzzing sound and it was coming from the other side of my bedroom window and I leapt from the bed in what I described as my favorite pair of imaginary pajamas. And I pulled the drapes aside and there was a camera hovering, not in mid air, but from the belly of a drone and the drone was making this horrible buzzing sound. And I was standing there in my horrible nakedness not fully awake but sentient enough to know that something had to be done. So I retreated to the uh bed, pulled the Mossberg 500 from underneath. Gillespie And, by the way, do you get a uh is that a product placement? Rowe It's not. I just like the way I feel when I say Mossberg 500. It's a great shotgun. I keep it locked and loaded and the familiar chunk-c[...]

New Cable Thrillers Pick Up Where Broadcast Premieres End

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Berlin Station. Epix. Sunday, October 16, 9 p.m. Eyewitness. USA. Sunday, October 16, 10 p.m. Looking at the schedule this week, it's hard not to see a metaphor for the roiling changes in television. The broadcast networks take a break in their anachronistic fall rollout, on which they spent hundreds of millions of dollars and drove dozens of marketing focus groups insane—and cable quickly steps in with a pair of high-impact dramas which, though cheaper and lacking any big name stars, are at least as good as anything the broadcasters have offered up this fall. And one of them you can watch for free on-line! (For a couple of episodes, anyway.) USA's Eyewitness and Epix's Berlin Station share little but their high quality. Eyewitness is a conventional if extraordinarily well-executed crime thriller that grabs you almost from the first frame. Berlin Station is more of a slow burn, a grim, complex tale of spies on an existential treadmill who no longer remember why they got on but lack any idea of how to get off. Eyewitness is adapted from the Norwegian series Øyevitne, but its premise—teenagers on an illicit rendezvous witness a crime, but can't report it without giving themselves away—is as old as, well, teenagers. (My favorite example is Pat Frank's exquisitely paranoid Cold War novel, Forbidden Area, subsequently adapted for TV, in which a couple making out on the beach spot the arrival of a Soviet saboteur but don't tell anybody, which nearly leads to nuclear holocaust. Talk about the wages of sin!) Eyewitness gives the premise a very modern twist: The teenagers are gay. Lukas (James Paxton, Term Life) is a high school in-crowder who doesn't think his popularity would survive coming out of the closet. ("I don't wanna be that guy...nobody wants me to be that guy.") Philip (Tyler Young, When We Rise) is less uncomfortable on that score, but as a socially marginal foster kid, newly arrived at the small-town school from a drug-addled household in the city, feels he's in no position to argue. So when they witness a drug shootout in the woods that ends with four bodies on the ground, their lips stay sealed. Yet the complications are many. One of the supposed drug dealers was an undercover FBI agent, which brings federal interest. The local police chief (Julianne Nicholson) is not only Philip's foster mother (which allows him to surreptitiously monitor her investigation, but also stokes his paranoia) but also a former big-city homicide detective with a harrowing secret in her past. Worst of all, one of those drug dealers wasn't really dead—and now he's searching for the boys. Eyewitness is written and produced by Dutch-born Adi Hasak, who also created Øyevitne. His Hollywood resume is thin but nonetheless impressive; he's collaborated with Luc Bresson on a couple of thrillers (Three Days To Kill and Shadow Conspiracy) and created Shades of Blue, the startlingly good corrupt-cop crime drama that NBC used as late-in-the-year filler last season. Eyewitness gives every reason to think Hasak's got a promising career ahead of him. His script for the pilot episode is a model of expositional economy that lays down a complicated premise in just a few minutes, then adds complicating elements one by one. He has also somehow managed to capture the Nordic-noir feel of Øyevitne without the by-now cliched use of bleak weather. The intrusion of urban mayhem into the pastoral small-town setting gives Eyewitness an unsettlingly claustrophobic sense of a village under siege. You may not want to live there, but I bet you'll want to visit once a week. Berlin Station is anything but bucolic. Its astringent Berlin venues—soulless skyscrapers, neo-Isherwoodian techno clubs and harshly lit [...]

Trio of New Comedies Targets Female Viewers

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 14:00:00 -0400

American Housewife. ABC. Tuesday, October 11, 8:30 p.m. Divorce. HBO. Sunday, October 9, 10 p.m. Insecure. HBO. Sunday, October 9, 10:30 p.m. "The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is: 'What does a woman want?'" A sitcom, dude. Three of them, written by and oriented toward women, debut this week. But if you're seeking some sort of gender epiphany, this may not be the right milieu: Sisterhood may be powerful, but it definitely isn't commonality. ABC's American Housewife—the lone new broadcast show this week as the deluge of fall premieres slows to a trickle—is at once the most conventional and the funniest of the three. It's the latest dysfunctional-family comedy of the line spawned by Married ... With Children 30 years ago, which has expanded to dominate television so thoroughly that it's hard to remember a time when Ozzie and Harriet and Ward and June stalked the Earth, sniffing out and snuffing the unwholesome. That is definitely not the mission of American Housewife lead Katie Otto (Katy Mixon, much beloved as the corpulent party girl Victoria on Mike & Molly these many years). The self-proclaimed third-fattest housewife of Westport, Connecticut, her life goal is to not move up to No. 2, a modest ambition that seems doomed by the imminent departure of Fat Pam across the street. More forlornly, Katie takes an occasional half-heated stab at coaxing her youngest children—little OCDed-out Anna Kat, determined to lead a friend-free life after learning other kids carry germs, and her uber-Randian older brother Oliver, whose preferred bathroom reading is the Robb Report—towards normality. And exactly the reverse with teenager Taylor, whose previously recessive hot-chick gene has just blossomed, threatening to turn her into one of the air-kissing, Stepford Wife size twos who are the bane of Katie's existence. Of little help in these endeavors is husband Greg (Diedrich Bader, The Drew Carey Show), who mostly passively observes events from his perch on the upstairs toilet. The desperate-parents-and-damaged-kids formula of American Housewife is certainly nothing new. But creator and producer Sarah Dunn has had a long career path through some of TV's most successful sitcoms, from Veronica's Closet to Murphy Brown to Spin City, and she's learned a good deal along the way. American Housewife may be a knockoff rather than a tapestry, but it includes threads of wistfulness, paranoia and willful social deviance that will make you look twice. Or even thrice. I was floored by Oliver's retort to his mother's lecture about the virtues of unselfishness. "If I thought I might be a girl on the inside, you'd let me wear a skirt to school," he snapped. "This is no different. I should be allowed to be who I am." At the opposite end of the hilarity scale is HBO's Divorce, where the dialogue mostly runs along the lines of an embittered wife snapping at her overweight husband, "Keep spooning it in, you fat fuck." Rimshot: He collapses of a heart attack and goes into a coma. Created by British actress Sharon Horgan and co-produced by star Sarah Jessica Parker, Divorce chronicles the disintegration of the loveless wedlock of a middle-aged suburban couple, Frances (Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways). After seeing one of her best friend's marriages end literally in gunfire, Frances announces, "I want to save my life while I still care about it." That entails walking out on Robert to shack up with her professor boyfriend, who it turns out is unenthusiastic about evolving their relationship from "dirty little secret" to "bourgeois affair." That[...]