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TV Watch: Justified

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Timothy Olyphant starred in “Justified” from 2010-15

 

It’s been three and a half years since the last piece in my “TV Watch” series came out. That last article in February 2014 covered the action-packed Cinemax drama “Banshee” starring Antony Starr and Ivana Milicevic.

Since that time, more and more Americans have taken on the phenomenon of binge-watching television series. This involves watching all episodes of a show in a short period of time via an OnDemand service, or through a pay service such as Netflix or Amazon.

Many times, I have found myself in conversations regarding which series folks are currently binging. Some of these conversations have turned me on to some of my favorite television shows.

I have also passed along some of my own favorites as a recommendation to others. That is what I’ll be doing now with ‘TV Watch’ over the next few months. As the series continues with occasional pieces, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite shows from the last decade or so that have concluded their original runs, but which are available for you to enjoy on those various OnDemand or pay networks.

Near the top of any recommendation list that I could make would be “Justified”, which originally aired on the FX network from March 2010 through April 2015. It’s 78 episodes over six seasons make up one of the best and most original cop dramas in television history.

Timothy Olyphant stars as deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who battles the bad guys operating in and around his home turf of Harlan, Kentucky.

Harlan is a small town and county located in extreme southeastern Kentucky near the Cumberland River, bordered by mountains and ridges. The mountainous geography and warm, humid climate help set the stage for the series.

Olyphant is in some ways the typical smart aleck style law enforcement officer. His quick wit and superior intelligence often helps him disarm his opponents, both literally and figuratively.

One of my all-time favorite lines in TV history came out of the mouth of Raylan Givens:

“You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

And as with many a good ol’ Cowboy hat-wearing southern boy, he can back up his mouth. Raylan is good with both a gun and with his fists when needed. But he’s quick enough with both that wit and his gun that he rarely needs to actually use his fists.

A running thread throughout the series finds Raylan battling with the outlaw Crowder family, especially one whom he knew since childhood. Boyd Crowder, as played marvelously by Walton Goggins, proves to be Raylan’s principle nemesis.

Raylan’s personal life is complicated by ongoing flirtations with both his ex-wife Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd’s sister-in-law. Though Winona disappears for large stretches of the series, she will return and prove critical as it winds to a conclusion.

Both Raylan’s personal and professional lives are also constantly complicated by his father, Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry), who is suffering from the early signs of dementia. Unlike Raylan, Arlo has spent much of his life on the wrong side of the law, often with Boyd’s father Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey) who is a key figure in the shows first season.

As the show progresses, Raylan is forced to battle newly emerging threats, some from locals such as the Bennett and Crowe families, others from out of town drug operatives.

That renegade Bennett clan includes family matriarch Mags Bennett, played by Margo Martindale, and her sometimes bumbling but always villainous son Dickie Bennett, played by familiar face Jeremy Davies. Both Martindale and Davies won Emmy Awards for their roles. The Crowe family is a bunch of alligator farmers, and is led by another familiar face in Michael Rapaport.

Assisting Raylan on the law enforcement end are his immediate boss, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen. The chief is played brilliantly by Nick Searcy as a father figure to Raylan. He is much more of a straight, by the book lawman.

Based largely on Raylan’s track record of success, and simply liking him personally, Art tends to give Raylan a great deal of latitude in getting the job done – most times. Fellow deputies Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) work out of Raylan’s office and usually have his back.

The shows theme song is “Long Hard Times to Come” by Gangstagrass, a New York based group that combines blue grass and rap in an original sound. The song was nominated for 2010 Emmy Award.

Over it’s history, “Justified” won a 2010 Peabody Award and the two Emmy Awards. Among the numerous nominations that it received over it’s run were eight Emmy Award nominations, including for both Olyphant and Goggins. The show, Olyphant, Goggins, and Carter all received Critic’s Choice Award nominations over the life of the series.

You rarely, if ever, get this style of law enforcement shown on television. Rural and small-town life highlighted, and the law enforcement in the form of the U.S. Marshal’s office rather than some big city police.

Whether you are a fan of cop shows or not, I believe that you would find “Justified” enjoyable. It’s smart, well produced, and well acted. If you’ve never seen it before, add it to your list of shows to binge-watch sometime soon. You won’t regret it.

TV Watch: Banshee

Fans of one of the best new programs on television will be happy to learn that Cinemax has renewed “Banshee” for a third season to begin airing early in 2015.

This means that our star-crossed hero, sheriff Lucas Hood, will return to continue sorting out the various nefarious elements in and around the fictional small town of Banshee, Pennsylvania.

There are a number of original, interesting story lines that have been developed by the producers, writers, and actors as the show moves through what is now it’s second season. The most interesting of all is the very premise that the show is built upon, beginning with the developments in the very first episode of the first show aired in early 2013.

Lucas Hood is a new sheriff arriving from the Pacific Northwest, hired to take on the job as top cop in a rural Pennsylvania burg surrounded by a large Amish community. Unfortunately, the real Hood never gets to enjoy his new position, as he is murdered in a bar shootout on his way into town.

Present during the killing is a recently released convict. The con kills the men who killed Hood, and in a twist that has to be seen to be fully understood, ends up taking Hood’s badge and taking on his identity. This starts the roller coaster thrill ride of a show moving, and it never lets up.

Antony Starr plays our main character, the so-far unnamed con who we learn has been just released from prison after serving 15 years for his role in a diamond heist. He is tough, jail-hardened, and handsome. He was headed for Banshee himself in order to try to reconnect with his former love and partner-in-crime, Anastasia, played by the gorgeous Ivana Milicevic.

Taking on the identity of Lucas Hood, he proves resourceful in establishing himself in the role of the new sheriff in a town where no one knows the actual Hood.

With the help of a friend from his former criminal days, played by Hoon Lee, and the sympathetic bar owner, played by Frankie Faison, he manages to stay one step ahead of both the local lead thug, played by Ulrich Thomsen, as well as a nemesis from his past, a powerful crime boss played by Ben Cross.

Hood finds that reconnecting with Anastasia is not quite as easy as he might have hoped. During his incarceration she has assumed an alternative identity, and has gotten married and had children, with the local District Attorney, of all things.

The drama centers around Hood’s settling into his new identity and job, his relationship and experiences with his deputy sheriff staff, his attempts at reconnecting with Anastasia, his relationships with a couple of new local ladies, and his ongoing battles with the criminal and political elements in and around Banshee.

The show is tremendously well acted and paced, though the premise becomes a bit harder to swallow over the long haul. When you see the circumstances under which the fraudulent ‘Hood’ comes to town and to power, you can suspend belief and buy it for a time, this fact that he is pulling the wool over the eyes of some pretty sharp customers.

But now in the middle of the second season, what we have suspected all along seems to be coming to fruition. He cannot keep up this identity charade for long. A couple of people have already figured out that something is ‘off’ with the new sheriff. It seems only a matter of time before the fireworks that have already been set off erupt into a full-blown forest fire.

There is excellent supporting work from the talented ensemble cast including Hood’s deputies played by Matt Servitto and Demetrius Grosse, his love interests played by Trieste Kelly Dunn and Lili Simmons, and Anastasia’s family played by Russ Blackwell and Ryann Shane, among others.

“Banshee” continues the great tradition established by other outstanding cable drama series of the last decade or so. Tremendous acting by a talented ensemble cast, an attractive, charismatic lead character, high-quality production value, an interesting and original story line. It is well worth your time to catch up to this Cinemax masterpiece.

NOTE: this is the continuation of my ‘TV Watch’ reviews, more of which you can view by clicking on that below Tag

TV Watch: "Shameless"

The problem with cable television series is that they tend to show a lot of sex, especially among non-married individuals, drug and alcohol abuse, crime commission, and the entire array of man’s worst and basest actions. “Shameless” has all of that.

The greatness of cable television series is that they don’t hide from any of those very real elements of the struggles, tragedies, and triumphs of modern men and women.

It would be nice if families were perfect, whatever that is, but as human beings we are imperfect. To ignore rather than explore that imperfection would be a disservice.

Showtime has become perhaps the leading television network for presenting quality series, and it’s new creation “Shameless” gives it yet another hit.

The Gallagher family is certainly shameless in their actions. They are willing to and do lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to keep their dysfunctional, lower-class “white trash” family afloat.

The family is also shameless in their love, affection, and dedication to one another individually and the entire family as a unit. In this regard they do what so many other cable television series have been able to do, they draw us in and get us to sympathize, empathize, and root for their efforts to overcome the great obstacles that are thrown in our life paths by both circumstance and our own poor decisions.

The “name” star of the show is veteran actor William H. Macy playing family patriarch Frank Gallagher. Calling Frank an alcoholic is an insult to alcoholics everywhere. Frank is a fall-down drunk, saved from homelessness only by his inspired children.

The back story says that the family was once intact until the mom left for reasons that have yet not been fully explored. When she took off, leaving him with six kids to raise, Frank instead took to the bottle, leaving the kids to largely raise themselves.

The job of raising those kids has fallen on eldest daughter Fiona, played by the edgy-beautiful Emmie Rossum, the real star of the series. Fiona works dead-end jobs, organizes the household, juggles the roles of big sister and surrogate mother, all while also trying to find herself as a woman. Besides her family obligations, the show also highlights her relationships, particularly with hustler boyfriend Steve played charmingly by Justin Chatwin.

The eldest Gallagher son is Phillip, known as ‘Lip’, played by Jeremy Allen White. Lip is a high school genius who has decided to utilize his intellect to make money for the family in illegal pursuits such as charging other students to take their SAT exams for them in exchange for money.

The middle son, Ian, is played by Cameron Monaghan as a teen exploring emerging homosexual feelings. The youngest son, Carl, is played by Ethan Kutkowsky as an early serial killer, the kind of dark kid who tortures animals and draws pictures of his family dead at his hands.

The youngest daughter, the tween Debbie, is played by Emma Kenney, and is probably the most sympathetic character to this point. Deb seems to have a good head on her shoulders, wants only the best for her family, and is always trying to help others. She clearly has a good heart, and is beginning to struggle with the reality of her dysfunctional family while doing everything she can to help the clan individually and as a group. She is basically a tiny Fiona, without the worldliness of maturity.

The supporting cast is good as well, especially Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey as mixed-race neighbors Veronica and Kevin. As best friend to Fiona, ‘V’ and her live-in boyfriend Kev are almost members of the Gallagher family, not always to Kev’s liking. Lara Slade Wiggins has a regular role as Lip’s girlfriend, Karen, whose family is going through it’s own issues. Playing her kooky mom is veteran comedienne Joan Cusack.

“Shameless” airs original episodes every Sunday night at 10:00 pm on Showtime, with replays during the week and the series available to subscribers via OnDemand services. Currently approaching the end of their first season, it features outstanding acting turns by both the adults and the kids involved.

Despite having plenty of action involving those kids on the show, it is in no way for kids to watch. This is an adult TV-MA series all the way with sex, drugs, booze, and mature themes and situations dealt with on a regular basis.

For some reason, cable series seem to have a fascination with the gay topic. There are absolutely more gay characters involved in cable series than you will ever run into as a percentage in real life in most families. In that regard, “Shameless” is no different in featuring the issue with one of the Gallagher sons. But aside from that, there is much to like here. The acting is top notch, the issues are real ones faced by many in America’s oft-neglected underclass, and the togetherness of the family is commendable.

Some who are a bit more squeamish and sensitive than I am about showing even hetero-sexuality and dealing with mature, serious issues will cringe at the shamelessness of “Shameless“.

For me, this is yet another home run for cable television in general, and for Showtime in particular. I am looking forward to watching the Gallagher clan battle their demons for years to come, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new show to enjoy.

NOTE: this is a continuation of the “TV Watch” series of articles, all entries of which can be read by clicking on that below Tag

TV Watch: Breaking Bad

The AMC network, home to the best drama show on television in the award-winning ‘Mad Men’, has another major hit on their hands, one that I was personally just introduced to this year.

‘Breaking Bad’ just began the run of it’s 3rd season, and the quirky human-interest drug-dealing drama is well worth anyone’s time.

The show is based around the life of high school science teacher Walter White, a man whose intellect is well above his current position and pay grade. As played wonderfully by Bryan Cranston, White suffers a serious setback when he learns that he has cancer and does not have long to live.

His wife, Skyler, played smartly by the beautiful Anna Gunn, turns up pregnant with what will be their second child. Timing is everything.

Walt then makes a dramatic decision, one that will change thier lives forever, and will setup the story line. He decides that he is going to become a drug manufacturer, and cooks up a new brand of meth that is extremely high-quality. Walt is hoping to make enough money from the distribution of the drug before he dies to setup his family financially after he is gone.

To that end, Walt solicits the help of one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. Pinkman has a talent for both the science end, where he helps out Walt as his assistant ‘cook’, and as a dealer as well.

Having a cast led by a man who is dying of cancer, about to have a baby, and turns to illegal drug manufacturing to support them after his death isn’t enough fodder for controversy? Well, the cast and the plot are made even more tense by the fact that Skylar’s sister, Marie Schrader, played by Betsy Brandt, is married to a highly motivated DEA agent named Hank Schrader, played with intensity by Dean Norris.

There are some tremendous supporting acting turns over the course of the first three seasons as well. RJ Mitte plays Walter White Jr, the featured couple’s high school aged son with special needs. Raymond Cruz plays Tuco Salamanca, a crazed Mexican drug lord who initially does business with Walt and Jesse.

Bob Odenkirk is introduced as a colorful TV-style shady lawyer named Saul Goodman. And Jane Margolis makes a pivotal turn as Jesse’s season two landlord-turned-girlfriend.

Walt’s efforts as a drug manufacturer, in battling his cancer, and in struggling through the situations of his family and home life make for an intriguing, well-written, well-acted story line.

It is all kept moving along with featured looks into the other characters lives as well, particularly those of Skylar, Jesse, and Hank. The third season is just a few episodes old now, airing new shows every Sunday night on AMC, and it is proving the most dramatic and interesting season yet.

As I have posted here a number of times, HBO and Showtime have led the way over the past decade with quality drama and comedy programs such as The Sopranos, Sex in the City, Rome, The Tudors, The Wire and many others.

Now networks such as AMC and FX are joining the parade of great shows being churned out on cable television. ‘Breaking Bad’ is the latest that I can highly recommend. You can catch up on previous seasons and episodes in a variety of places including OnDemand, online, or through Netflix.

TV Watch: LOST

For the past few years, as I would be watching something on the ABC television network, I would constantly see commercials for “LOST”, a program that I had never actually viewed myself.

Over time I would hear numerous friends and family members talk about this show, see and hear references to it in popular culture, and wonder what all the fascination was about.

Sometime late last spring I decided to do something about it. I signed up for the ‘Netflix’ service and began to receive DVD’s of “LOST” beginning with the pilot episode. That first introduction to this new series was a revelation. The production value for a pilot episode of a TV program was equal to what you would normally expect to find at a movie theatre in a motion picture. I was hooked.

There is a very famous anonymous quote that goes: “For those who know, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none will suffice.” Suffice it to say this quote applies perfectly to the “LOST” experience. If you have never watched the show, I cannot recommend it more highly. You can catch up as I did through Netflix, or via any number of internet resources.

I became addicted to the program, rifling through episode after episode, eagerly awaiting the next DVD shipment and then devouring the four episodes that it contained. Waiting days for the next shipment was at times grueling. That is the nature of the show. It is high quality, and it is highly addictive.

Tonight on ABC, “LOST” begins it’s final season run. The producers and writers have promised that all of our questions regarding the show will finally and fully be answered. It’s stars have begun making the rounds on talk shows and in magazines trumpeting the season. Fans like me have been waiting and waiting for the beginning of the end, and tonight it finally arrives.

For the uninitiated, “LOST” is the story of the survivors of the crash of an airliner, Oceanic Flight 815 onto the beach and into the waters just off of a tropical island. It follows their struggles to recover after the crash, to organize themselves, to explore the island, and ultimately to overcome what turn out to be numerous challenges, some human, some mystical, some mysterious.

There are initially 71 human survivors from what were 324 people on board, as well as a dog who survives, spread across 3 sections of the aircraft wreckage. That first season saw 14 regular speaking parts, making it the largest ensemble program in television history, and enabling the show to establish numerous relationship pairings and conflicts. From that very first season the show was not afraid to kill off major characters, and it has never been beyond introducing new ones.

New characters are brought on to the program in a variety of manners over the years. Remember, there were 71 survivors and only 14 initial speaking roles, so plenty of room to begin to introduce others as main or secondary characters. The show also establishes early on that it will explore the main characters past lives leading them up to the crash, so it will frequently ‘flashback’ to a character’s life and experiences prior to the island.

Series creators J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Jeffrey Lieber envisioned a story line involving drama, fantasy, adventure, and a touch of science fiction. What they have achieved is simply a television masterpiece. Though the high quality of production and the strong writing are the backbone of the show, it is the actors that make us ultimately suspend belief, that make us feel this could really happen. That make us care.

Matthew Fox is the show’s leading man, playing Dr. Jack Shephard, a man who has struggled in life with his relationships, particularly with his father Dr. Ben Shephard, played in a recurring role by John Terry. The balance to Jack’s complicated heroic character is that of John Locke, played by Terry O’Quinn. Josh Holloway stars as bad boy and hunk James ‘Sawyer’ Ford. Evangeline Lilly plays the surprising Kate Austen, who ultimately is locked in a love triangle with Jack and Sawyer.

Also in the mix are Naveen Andrews as Sayid Jarrah, a former member of Iraq’s Republican Guard. Emilie de Raven plays the very beautiful and very pregnant Claire Littleton. Dominic Monaghan plays her sometimes protector, rock star Charlie Pace. Jorge Garcia is rotund lottery winner Hugo ‘Harley’ Reyes. Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim play Korean married couple Jin-Soo and Sun-Hwa Kwan.

These characters, a host of other survivors, and others who have been on the island previously or who eventually are also drawn to the island end up being challenged by one another, a deadly ‘smoke monster’, a mysterious underground research facility, a doomsday clock, time travel and displacement, their own personal fears and demons, and ultimately get caught up in a struggle between good and evil themselves.

Like every group of people, be they family, friends, co-workers, teammates, or survivors of a plane crash, there are many facets to each of the character’s personalities. There is good and bad in each and every one of them, and over the first five seasons they have each had their personal demons exposed and their motivations explored. Despite all of the mythology, religious undertones, and the supernatural, it is these human stories that make “LOST” the quality drama that it is at it’s core.

The lush paradise of Hawaii provides the gorgeous and mysterious island that is itself a character in the program. In one of the early shows, Charlies asks the question that grows on everyone’s mind: “Where are we?” The answer is yet to be revealed, with speculation ranging from a simple island in the middle of the ocean to a sort of purgatory between Heaven and Hell.

Not since “The Sopranos” has a television series captured my imagination this way. In sifting through the hundreds of channels and thousands of hours of programming junk, there is much to like about television today, particularly on cable networks.

“LOST” is that very rare thing today, a blockbuster program from one of the old school networks that actually lives up to the hype. I can’t wait to welcome back the characters, and start to uncover the mysteries of “LOST” beginning tonight.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the “TV Watch” series, all entries of which can be viewed by clicking on that Tag below this article