Category Archives: TV

This Year’s BBC Agatha Christie Adaptation — The Pale Horse

Under terms originally set forth in the Magna Carta, the BBC is required by law to broadcast at least one big new Agatha Christie dramatization every year. Since they can only remake And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Death on the Nile two or three times a decade, BBC management occasionally looks to Christie’s lesser-known works for inspiration.

This year, they’re giving us Christie’s witchy 1961 novel, The Pale Horse. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are absent from this one, but Ariadne Oliver—friend of Poirot, mystery novelist, and frequent stand-in for the author herself—plays a prominent role.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s the cast:

The Pale Horse is available on BBC iPlayer in the UK, and starting this weekend, on Amazon Prime in the US.

Better Call Saul — Season Five Starts Tonight

Looks who’s back!

It’s Saul Goodman, a shyster so corrupt, so morally bankrupt, so totally devoid of ethics, honesty, and scruples that it’s surprising he didn’t pop up advising the Republican senators during the recent impeachment trial.

And look who else is back!

Gus Fring!

Héctor  Salamanca!

Mike Ehrmantraut!

And even DEA agent Hank Schrader!

All brought back from the dead for this prequel to Breaking Bad, probably the finest television achievement of the still-very-young 21st century.

There’s a never-ending debate on line—one of those Kirk-vs-Picard things—about exactly when Walter White broke bad and went over to the dark side. (I admired the Redditor who answered the question by posting sonogram of a fetus.)

With Jimmy McGill, the question is pretty much resolved: It was when Jimmy McGill became “Saul Goodman”. That’s where we are at the start of Series Five.

After tonight’s episode, Better Call Saul will return with a second episode on Monday night in its regular time slot. This is the show’s next-to-last season, but, hey, s’all good, man.

High Fidelity — The Remix

My earlier post about High Fidelity (the book) was by way of leading up to this posting about High Fidelity (the TV series). But before we get to that, have a look at the trailer for High Fidelity (the movie).

High Fidelity (the movie) was released back in 2000. It’s a pretty good film. The setting was switched from London to Chicago, but the script otherwise stays close to the novel, breaking the fourth wall to incorporate direct quotations from Rob’s internal musings. That great “What came first, the music or the misery?” passage made it into the movie intact, for instance.

Now Hulu is bringing High Fidelity to what used to be called “the small screen”. (With today’s wall-size monitors, that name no longer seems appropriate). The gimmick this time is that the 10-episode series flips the sex and race of most of the characters from the original novel. Rob Gordon, played by John Cusack in the movie, is now played by Zoë Kravitz.

Should be fun, and it’s bound to have a great soundtrack.

The series begins on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2020. While you’re waiting, read the book!

If You Missed Seth Meyers’ Talk with the Cast of The Good Place

Here it is:

At the end of its fourth season, The Good Place came to a sad/happy conclusion last Thursday night. The best American comedy series since those first three seasons of Arrested Development has passed through the archway into who knows what.

After the final fade-out, the (perfect) cast of The Good Place talked with Seth Meyers about the show.


Chidi”s “The Wave”, from the Finale

Fargo Returns This Spring

Well, look who’s coming back!

It’s been almost three years since the last episode of Season Three was broadcast.

The show is still called Fargo, but the new series takes place in Kansas City, Missouri, in the 1950s. (Fargo has never cared much about following a  linear timeline. The first season was set in 2006, the second in 1979, and the third in 2010.)

Here’s what FX has revealed so far:

“In 1950, at the end of two great American migrations — that of Southern Europeans from countries like Italy, who came to the US at the turn of the last century and settled in northern cities like New York, Chicago — and African Americans who left the south in great numbers to escape Jim Crow and moved to those same cities — you saw a collision of outsiders, all fighting for a piece of the American dream. In Kansas City, Missouri, two criminal syndicates have struck an uneasy peace. One Italian, one African American. Together they control an alternate economy — that of exploitation, graft and drugs. This too is the history of America. To cement their peace, the heads of both families have traded their eldest sons.”

Chris Rock, in his first lead dramatic role on a television series, plays Loy Cannon, the head of an African-American crime family. Timothy Olyphant co-stars, which should give Judge Gen in The Good Place all kinds of shivers.

Fargo has been nominated for more than 200 television awards, and its Tomatometer rating has never fallen below 93%.

The fourth season will premiere on 19 April 2020.

Little Women — Official Trailer

The 8th? 15th? 147th? film version of Little Women is headed right at us on Christmas Day, and can there be any doubt that this will be a hugely successful movie? From the trailer, it sounds as if Greta Gerwig has brought this staging of Louisa May Alcott’s mid-19th century novel into the 21st century, for better or worse. Probably for better.

Like (almost) all the previous film versions of Little Women, this one benefits from the talents of its superlative female cast, including Florence Pugh (English) as Amy, Saoirse Ronan (Irish) as Jo,  Eliza Scanlen (Australian) as Beth and Emma Watson (English, but born in Paris) as Meg. Laura Dern plays and Marmee and Meryl Streep plays Aunt March, because of course she does.

The male cast is equally impressive, with James Norton (English) as John Brooke,  and Louis Garrel (French) as Professor Bhaer, and Timothée Chalamet  (USA! USA!) as Laurie. It will be interesting to see what Bob Odenkirk, Saul Goodman himself, does with the role of Mr. March.


Out of the Past  —  Some Earlier Versions


Many people consider the 1933 version of Little Women the best.

The Little Women

Joan Bennett as Amy
Katharine Hepburn as Jo
Jean Parker as Beth
Frances Dee as Meg

Notes

Aunt March was played by the great Edna May Oliver who steals every scene she’s in, as she inevitably did in all her movies.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Paul Lukas, who was Hungarian.
Joan Bennet was 23 and pregnant when she signed on to play 12-year-old Amy.


The next version came out in 1949, 16 years and one World War later.

The Little Women

Elizabeth Taylor (in a blonde wig) as Amy
June Allyson as Jo
Margaret O’Brien as Beth
Janet Leigh as Meg

Notes

Peter Lawford was Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Rossano Brazzi, who was Italian.
Mary Astor played Marmee, but she’ll always be Brigid O’Shaughnessy to me.
June Allyson, 31 and pregnant, played 15-year-old Jo.


The 1978 miniseries was bad beyond belief. Oh, was it awful!

The Little Women

Ann Dusenberry as Amy
Susan Dey as Jo
Eve Plumb as Beth
Meredith Baxter as Meg

Notes

The senior roles were played by movie stars from the 1940s: Dorothy McGuire as Marmee, Greer Garson as “Aunt Kathryn March”, and Robert Young as “Grandpa James Laurence”.
None of the actresses playing the March girls was known to be pregnant while production was underway.
The sisters were played by television actresses who were TV-famous at the time, but are now largely forgotten. Their line readings were pure 1978 California-contemporary and their acting would have been just fine in a community theatre production, if the community was home to fewer than 500 people.
It’s impossible to ignore the cast’s ridiculous wigs.
The whole miniseries looked cheap. The sets, the costumes, and the mediocre performances all but shouted out “Low Budget”.

But there’s really only one thing you need to know to comprehend what a disaster this production was:
The German Professor Bhaer was played by—wait for it—William Shatner.
He’s Canadian, I think.


With its first-rate cast, the 1994 remake is right up there with the version made 61 years earlier, in 1933.


The Little Women

Kirsten Dunst as Younger Amy
Samantha Mathis as Older Amy
Winona Ryder as Jo
Claire Danes as Beth
Trini Alvarado as Meg

Notes

Susan Sarandon played Mrs. March and Christian Bale played Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Gabriel Byrne, who is Irish.

The Guardian Calls It the “Best Christmas Ad This Year”

The ad is for Hafod Hardware, a little family-run hardware store in the Welsh market town of Rhayader, population 2,088. The shop opened in 1895 and has been in the same extended family for most of the time since then. The ad’s star is two-year-old Arthur Lewis Jones, the youngest member of the family, and the man at the end of the video is Thomas Lewis Jones, father of the adorable Arthur.

Total cost of producing the ad:  £100, which was used to pay for the recording of the soundtrack. The ad was posted to YouTube on 1 December 2019, and has been viewed almost two million times in its first week online.

Thomas Lewis Jones with his son Arthur, the star of the ad, in Hafod Hardware store. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/The Guardian

Thomas Lewis Jones with his son Arthur, the star of the ad, in Hafod Hardware store. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/The Guardian


Bonus

On the “History” page of Hafod Hardware website, the owners note that: “Many visitors comment on the interior of the shop – particularly quoting the Two Ronnies’ sketch – and they always remark that there is a particular “smell” in ironmongers or hardware stores. We like to think it is meant as a compliment rather than a criticism!”

Here’s what they’re talking about: