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Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

In Recaps on January 31, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Robert and Matthew (Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens) took a stroll on last night’s “Downton Abbey.” (Screen cap)

Misdeeds abounded on Downton Abbey, the Edwardian era miniseries that PBS’s Masterpiece aired this month, but in last night’s conclusion, the biggest crime happened off-screen.

Earlier, I wrote about how producers cut 35 minutes from the seven-hour British saga – but now I wonder if the job was outsourced to the corner butcher.

Each week, I watched both versions of the show – yes, I’m a true Downton devotee – and until last night, the differences were mostly subtle: PBS viewers missed a line here, a scene there.

But on the show’s final night, entire subplots and several insightful scenes were slashed; so were some choice lines from Violet, the droll dowager countess played to perfection by Dame Maggie Smith.

(Sample: “My poor niece never uses one word when twenty will do.”)

PBS viewers who want to see the whole story should buy the show on DVD, Blu-ray or iTunes, where they’ll find the original, unedited episodes.

Until then: Read the rest of this entry »

The Partridge Family, Singing the Black and White Blues

In Flashbacks on January 29, 2011 at 12:00 am

Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr. in “The Partridge Family” episode “Soul Club.” (Screen cap)

On January 29, 1971, ABC aired Soul Club, a Partridge Family episode that finds the lily-white clan organizing a fundraiser to save a struggling black nightclub in Detroit.

Lou Gossett Jr. and Richard Pryor guest star as the club’s owners, who are skeptical of the Partridges’ plan but are happily proven wrong when the fundraiser is a smash and the club is saved.

Soul Club, which aired 17 days after All in the Family’s debut, is an early example of television’s awakening in the 1970s, when the medium began exploring racial relations and other once-taboo topics.

In 1997, TV Guide ranked Soul Club the 78th greatest television episode of all time, declaring it “one of the best-intentioned” entries on its list.

See for yourself: A three-minute Soul Club “minisode” can be streamed at Crackle; the full episode is available on DVD and through iTunes and Amazon.com video on demand.

Blue Bloods: Brighton Beach Memories

In Recaps on January 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Danny and Jackie strolled along the boardwalk in “Family Ties,” Wednesday night’s “Blue Bloods” episode. (Screen cap)

The sacrifices that parents make for their kids – and the burdens children bear – have been recurring themes on CBS’s Blue Bloods all season, and they were explored again in Family Ties, the installment that aired Wednesday.

The episode opened at a flashy nightclub in Brooklyn’s Russian-American enclave of Brighton Beach, where young Mischa and Sophia (Topher Mikels, Sofia Sokolov) were celebrating their engagement.

After Sophia gyrated her way onto the dance floor, Mischa headed to the basement with sexy Svetlana (Anna Ellinsfeld), who must have been his tailor, because as soon as they were alone, she unbuckled his belt and hit her knees.

I guess she needed to inspect his inseam?

Since this is Blue Bloods, at that moment, the basement door opened, a gun-wielding hand emerged and three bullets were fired into Mischa’s chest.

Svetlana fled screaming. Read the rest of this entry »

The Honeymooners: Ralph Kramden’s Forgotten River

In Flashbacks on January 28, 2011 at 12:00 am

Alice (Audrey Meadows), Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Ed (Art Carney) in “The $99,000 Answer.” (Screen cap)

On January 28, 1956, CBS aired The $99,000 Answer, one of the best-loved episodes of The Honeymooners.

The plot: Blustery Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), preparing to compete in the popular music category on the quiz show The $99,000 Answer, drives wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) batty by spending a week cramming at home.

Ralph is aided by piano-playing pal Ed Norton (Art Carney), who warms up for each song with a few bars of Swanee River, much to Ralph’s chagrin.

On the night of the show, Ralph has transformed himself into a pop-music expert, but he isn’t prepared for the first question: Who composed Swanee River?

“Ed Norton?” Ralph guesses.

In 1997, TV Guide ranked The $99,000 Answer sixth on its list of television’s 100 greatest episodes of all time.

See for yourself: The $99,000 Answer is part of The Honeymooners: The Classic 39 Episodes DVD set.

Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey: To Serve, in Love

In Recaps on January 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Anna (Joanne Froggatt) confessed her love to Bates (David Coyle) on last night’s “Downton Abbey.” (Screen cap)

In last night’s episode of Downton Abbey, the Edwardian soap opera airing this month under PBS’s Masterpiece banner, Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) paid a surprise visit to lawyer/cousin Matthew (Dan Stevens), asking him to review the legal agreement that prohibits her granddaughter Mary from inheriting the family estate.

Although Matthew is poised to leapfrog Mary in the line of succession, he readily accepted Violet’s request, and she almost fell off her seat – not because she was surprised, but because she was sitting in a swivel chair, which she figured was another “brain wave” of the modern era.

When Matthew ran into Mary (Michelle Dockery) at the village fair, he told her that he was searching for loopholes in the inheritance pact and the two seemed to bond; Mary even confessed her unhappiness, declaring that “women like me don’t have a life.” Read the rest of this entry »

Infernal Youth: Donny & Marie Come to Prime Time

In Flashbacks on January 23, 2011 at 12:00 am

The Osmond siblings, seen on a 1979 edition of “Donny & Marie.” (Screen cap)

On January 23, 1976, ABC introduced Donny and Marie, the sequin-studded variety hour starring the squeaky-clean Osmond siblings.

Each week, the teenage hosts exchanged mild putdowns, sang, danced and acted in goofy skits alongside guest stars such as Farrah-Fawcett Majors, who appeared on the debut.

The show was an instant hit, making Friday nights appointment television for kids, who stuck around after Donny and Marie for TV-movies like John Travolta’s Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

“It boggles the mind to think that a boy 18 and a girl 16 can have a network show of their own. I can’t recall any other teen-agers breathing that kind of rarefied air,” critic Joseph Thesken wrote in his review.

Today, teenage TV stars – so novel in 1976 – are common on cable, where performers like Selena Gomez reign supreme.

See for yourself: The four-episode Best of Donny and Marie collection is on DVD.

Blue Bloods: Little Fish, Big Apple

In Recaps on January 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) in “Little Fish,” last night’s “Blue Bloods” episode. (Screen cap)

Last night, Blue Bloods began a four-week trial run on Wednesdays, where CBS hopes the freshman police/family drama will pick up more fans before it returns to its tough Friday slot next month.

My gripe with Blue Bloods is that it tries to be all things to all viewers, and Little Fish, last night’s installment, is exhibit A.

It squeezed stories about a dead hooker, a cold case involving a missing kid, FBI/New York police politics and judicial misconduct into a 42-minute-without-commercials episode.

Little Fish opened with New York City police detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) being awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from Anna (Gwynneth Bensen), a visibly frightened young woman who told him she needed help.

When Danny asked for more details, Anna balked.

“Nobody can help me,” she wailed. “I don’t know why I called.”

Click. Read the rest of this entry »

Reagan and Dynasty: Secrets of Their Excess

In Commentaries on January 20, 2011 at 6:00 am

Nancy and Ronald Reagan in 1985, top, and “Dynasty” cast members Joan Collins, John Forsythe and Linda Evans. (The Reagans were photographed by Harry Benson; the “Dynasty” cast photo appears courtesy ABC/Everett)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration, an occasion that is sure to inspire tributes aplenty on Fox News Channel and more half-witted haiku from professional tweeter Sarah Palin.

For me, no commemoration of the Age of Reagan is complete without discussing Dynasty, the prime time soap opera that functioned as a pop culture barometer of our shifting values during those years.

Other critics have noted the parallels between the glamorous show and Reagan’s presidency, but they tend to focus on the optics – the sense of opulence that the first lady brought to the White House (expensive china, designer gowns) and the president’s resemblance to Dynasty star John Forsythe, who shared his matinee idol looks and benign, paternal demeanor.

There’s also the neat alignment between Dynasty’s eight-year run and the Reagan administration – ABC introduced the series nine days before he was sworn in; its finale aired in May 1989, a little more than 100 days after he left office – as well as how the show (and arguably, Reagan’s presidency) peaked during the 1984-85 television season, when Dynasty became the most popular series and Reagan won his landslide reelection.

Ultimately, Dynasty’s celebration of moral ambiguity is what really cements its status as a symbol of Reagan era excess. Read the rest of this entry »

A History of Violet: Downton Abbey’s Queen of Quips

In Tidbits on January 18, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Would someone please explain the concept of weekends to this nice lady? (Screen cap)

Whether her character is bemused or bewildered, no one delivers a line like Dame Maggie Smith, the dowager countess Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey, PBS’s latest Masterpiece soap opera.

My favorites, so far:

• “No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house!”

Upon learning that Turkish attaché Kemal Pamuk died while visiting the Downton Abbey estate

• “One can’t go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We’d all be in a state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper!”

Explaining why granddaughter Mary should get over Pamuk’s death

• “I don’t think things are quite that desperate.”

Responding to a suggestion that lovelorn Mary visit New York to find a husband

• “We had better get her settled, before the bloom is off the rose.”

Discussing Mary’s marital eligibility

• “What is a weekend?”

After hearing when a middle-class relative plans to tend to his duties as Downton’s new master

Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey: Lady Mary, in the Bedroom, with the Mattress

In Recaps on January 17, 2011 at 11:30 am

Poor Mr. Pamuk (Theo James) didn’t survive last night’s “Downton Abbey.” (Screen cap)

As the action got underway last night on Downton Abbey, PBS’s latest Masterpiece

soap opera, Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) was desperate to feel useful, so she began volunteering at the village hospital alongside Dr. Clarkson (David Robb).

Violet (Maggie Smith) discovered this and told the good doctor to “put an end to her meddling. … Get rid of her!”

Down in the servants’ hall, when lady-of-the-house Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) caught her maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) badmouthing Isobel’s son Matthew, Cora dressed down O’Brien in front of everyone.

“If we are to be friends, you will not speak in that way again about the Crawleys – or any member of Lord Grantham’s family,” Cora fumed.

“Friends! Who does she think she’s fooling? We’re not friends,” O’Brien huffed to Anna (Joanne Froggatt) after Cora left the room. “We’re servants, you and me, and they pay us to do as we’re told.” Read the rest of this entry »