Tag Archives: HBO

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has something to say

Last night marked the second outing of the new HBO comedy/social commentary/fake news program satire of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Certainly and obviously a branch off of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tree (even more so than the more straight satire of the character starring in The Colbert Report), its half-hour format without commercials has admittedly on occasion had me checking the clock, but it also affords him segments like the clip imbedded below – the almost thirteen minute unleash of a full-formed opinion on the horrors of the death penalty. As Bill Maher’s final “new rule” on each episode of Real Time has shown us, this type of elongated editorial can have an elongated impact. John Oliver has always been undeniably witty and hilarious, but if this type of truth-telling can become a staple of his new platform, there will be weeks of tonights ahead of him on HBO.

“The Leftovers” first trailer – welcome back to TV Damon Lindelof

The Entertainment Weekly Fall Television Preview issue has traditionally been one of my most anticipated magazines of the year (since 1996!). Although increasingly less potent in recent years now that television has morphed into a twelve month release schedule, when my favorite television show debuted in 2004, it was everything.

There were many reasons why I chose to add Lost to my VCR recording schedule (it wasn’t that long ago) as informed by EW’s coverage – I had been an avid fan of one of JJ Abrams other properties (Alias) and was excited to see Terry O’Quinn on another series, I had a fondness for Matthew Fox from his Party of Five days, I had a fondness for Harold Perrineau from his Oz days, I loved the “plane crash on a deserted island” concept – but not one reason involved an excitement for a then relatively unknown (unless Nash Bridges was your jam) writer/producer named Damon Lindelof. This was soon to change. With JJ Abrams quickly venturing into other lens flaring projects, Lost quickly became the adored creative child of Lindelof and showrunner partner Carlton Cuse. Although not a flawless experience by any means (the entire Tailies subplot ended up being irrelevant, time travel gave the audience more headaches and nosebleeds than the characters experiencing it, that ending), Lost remains the most prolific and meaningful television journey I have taken to date and I have Lindelof and Cuse (with some Jack Bender stalwart direction) to thank for being such passionate, compassionate, and trusted storytellers.

After Lost closed its tale in 2010, Lindelof and Cuse both took a necessary break from television. Cuse came back last winter with Bates Motel (a show that has been sitting in my DVR queues for far too long – according to most critics, this is my loss). Lindelof dabbled with the screenwriting of classic properties (Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness) and of properties that no one was pining for (Cowboys and Aliens…oops.). At long last this summer, Lindelof returns to the medium that made him a star as the co-showrunner of “a new dramatic series” from HBO, The Leftovers. Based on Tom Perotta’s book (Perotta will be the other showrunner) about a mysterious rapture-like event and how it affects the suburban community of Mapleton. If Bo knows and TNT knows drama, HBO knows (among other things) how to craft a scintillating trailer. Behold the first full-length trailer for The Leftovers (debuting June 29):

There is just so much to like…

  • The use of James Blake’s soaring anthem “Retrograde” is tremendous.

  • Justin Theroux (Mr. Jennifer Aniston) has a Matthew Fox-like gravitas (before he got really angry and strange tattoos on Lost) as the lead character policeman guy.

  • The haunting beginning scene involving the ramifications of people disappearances (especially that beautiful baby Sam) feels eerily like the Lost pilot (this is a great thing).

  • I have never been one to judge, but Amy Brenneman’s white-dressed group plays like a neo-Others.

  • Other pilots “directed by Peter Berg?” Friday Night Lights.

  • Liv Tyler is back on television (it has been a long time since Aerosmith’s “Crazy” music video).

  • HBO allows for more realistic content (pay cable!) and if the trailer is any indication, Mr. Lindelof is taking appreciated advantage.

  • Shows are not often built on both a central mystery and a compelling ensemble of characters (they do not often get both right). The enthralling trailer seems to succeed at both.

Game of Thrones is holding strongly to my “Lost Favorite Current Television Show Championship Belt,” but the time has come for some competition. May it be The Leftovers. In Damon Lindelof we trust.

Let’s Get a Few Links Off My Chest: The Challenge Hibernation Edition

To my few loyal readers who may not be as interested in the minutia and the “inside the competitor’s studio” unrelenting coverage of all things The Challenge, do not fear: my pop culture and sports identity has not lost its mojo (a fair presumption). The reality of covering the “Fifth Major American Professional Sport” (that also happens to be a TV show) full-time is that other writing takes a little bit of a backseat. With so much going on (NBA Playoffs! Game of Thrones! Colbert taking over Late NightThe remarkable cultural ascendancy of Billy on the Street!), I thought I could at least send you to the right places.

Without further ado, let us get a few links off my chest…

I am not sure I would call this the “greatest shot in playoff history” as some have suggested…

(greatness demands higher stakes than Game 2 of a first round series), but I would be hard pressed to find a more incredible basketball play and the replays only make it look better.

Beno Udrih’s reaction non-reaction (at 0:18) says everything.

For the record, this remains my favorite playoff basketball play that I ever seen (you are really watching what greatness is all about)…

Speaking of Larry Legend, Jalen and Bill have an interesting chat about LeBron’s place in the “greatest forward of all-time conversation…

They both reluctantly argue (and subsequently mourn) that if LeBron wins his third championship this season, he passes Bird on the all-time forward list. I may not be there yet, but this is not an erroneous argument by any means. LeBron, beginning the playoffs in his eleventh season, is already right there. Incredible.

While were still in the land of Larry, somebody finally got into a fistfight with Lance Stephenson, and, not so surprisingly, it was Evan Turner (not exactly anyone’s favorite teammate). Despite a decisive game 2 victory against the Hawks, Pacers championship aspirations are in a whole lot of trouble. At least Roy Hibbert isn’t for sale on Amazon.Roy-Hibbert-Cover

I had the pleasure of watching the epic game 1 showdown between Houston and Portland. Is there a more fun glue guy/crowd pleaser/enforcer in the league right now than Patrick Beverley? This is his response to being hit with a Mo Williams flagrant foul.

Thunder fans may object, but you have to love what this guys brings to the table.

If Patrick Beverley had played in 1980s, he would have been a perfect insertion to the Pistons. I certainly loathed the “yellow, gutless way” they did things, but it is hard not have some respect for the Bad Boys of Detroit as a compelling and dynamic basketball team (I had forgotten how eloquent Isiah Thomas is and how bizarre Adrian Dantley seems to be).

There have been many great 30 for 30 documentaries, but I am not sure one resonated (or provided a greater opportunity to relive and reminisce) more than this one.

Thank goodness for Robert Parish’s revenge enactment (start at 0:17). Amazingly, he was not ejected. Respect.

That’s what you do, Paul Pierce. That’s why the Celtics miss you so much.

On to the other spectrum popular culture, Season 4 of Game of Thrones has already been responsible for its share of reactions (SPOILER ALERT!) and has further proved why Westeros is apparently the worst place to have a wedding. This week brought out some mixed opinions about the transfer of a book scene to television. I am still ruminating on the ramifications of the scene in question and as a television viewer first and foremost (I have only read the first book and aim to stay at least two books behind because I enjoy watching the television show too much), I will wait to see where Mr. Weiss and Benioff take me, but for now, if you are watching, read Andy Greenwald because he writes amazing things about an amazing television show.

My feeling after watching this video: I think we may be witnessing the birth of a political star…

The future of late night is bright with these two. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight debuts Sunday night on HBO. I remember his final The Daily Show with a nostalgic fondness.

Speaking of Late Night television, I admittedly have never been a Letterman guy. This is entirely a byproduct of my age (too young), my sensibility (I appreciate a different type of comedic irreverence), and my late night habits during formative late night habit-forming years (I have been a loyal follower of The Daily Show, an affinity that first awakened to the brilliant laughter and learning combination in college). Notwithstanding, I get it. I get why and how Letterman inspired a generation and why he is justifiably a comedic and television legend. Bill Simmons carves out a beautiful piece of prose to put all in perspective. Stephen Colbert (a Daily Show disciple on his own right) is the worthiest of replacements and will add to the already thriving renaissance of the medium.

Yes, they may not be the most incredible pre-publicity images I have seen, but they are still images from Jurassic World!Jurassic World

Bryce-Dallas-Howard Director-Chair

While on the subject of Steven Spielberg properties…will a collaboration with Tony Kushner be his next project or will it be a collaboration with Tom Hanks? I will gladly take both.

Coldplay is making me very excited for their new album, Ghost Stories, out May 19-20. Every song they have put out thus far simultaneously sounds entirely unique and yet eerily connected to one another as if from some carefully constructed masterwork. The latest release (as a live BBC performance) of “Oceans” furthers this trend:

I have tried and failed to read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter follow up, The Casual Vacancy, four times now. The “right timing” stars have never aligned. Maybe this just announced HBO miniseries will quell the trend.

The Leftovers debuts this summer on HBO and has Damon Lindelof’s stamp written all over it. The long awaited return to television by The Lost showrunner presents something extraordinary.

Finally, two games in, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s 2014 postseason is OUT OF CONTROL. Whether the Blazers win the series or not (Houston is heading back to Portland down 2-0), Aldridge’s rise to one of the game’s elite players (and mid-range jumper master) has already happened.

Truth and lies: the final word on “True Detective”

Alright, Alright, Alright.

I watched the eighth and final episode of season one of True Detective this morning, twelve hours after the first airing.  True Detective, the groundbreaking (certainly in form – more on this in a bit) HBO series and the current holder of the “show everyone is talking about” championship belt (wrestled away from House of Cards sometime in the last three weeks), has slowly dug its aggressive nails into my blood stream of admiration and enjoyment.  As further indication of both its cultural impact and the rampant account password freeloading that is taking place within its on-line streaming paradise (of which I am an admitted transgressor – thank you, Dad), HBO Go literally crashed last night due to over use (the fact that Girls had one of its best episodes of the season last night certainly did not help), asking me and millions of others hoping to experience the final chapter in the Rust Cohle and Marty Hart saga to “try again later.”  This delay was perhaps a blessing in disguise, especially having watched the beautiful, but sensory overloaded series premiere of the new Cosmos right before I turned on my Apple TV HBO Go interface to indulge in True Detective.  Alert and with a rested mind, I sat down this morning to finish the story.

Much of the written word chatter on old reliables (publications like Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and HitFix) last week was all about possible theories to the Yellow King “who-done-it” central mystery of this season.  Who was the Yellow King?  Were either Marty or Rust somehow involved in all of these serial murders?  What is up with the present day uniformed detectives that spent so much of the first six episodes listening intently to 2012 Marty and Rust wax poetic on a seventeen-year-old case and the minutia of their fated relationship?  Is there a reason all the facts of the case seem so hazy even after only seven episodes of content?  Honestly, I didn’t have time to spend culling through all of these case resolution theories, and admittedly, I didn’t really care.

I spoke to my Dad last night to try to make sense of it all.  On the eve of the final episode of the season, I had totally bought in to True Detective, but something felt so different than the other shows (and particularly central mystery experiences like Broadchurch) I have cherished in recent years.  My Dad’s admission, and subsequently, his implicit permission for one of my own, gave some perspective.  I am paraphrasing here, but my Dad said something like, “I really love True Detective – the direction, the actors, the characters – and you know me, I figure out what is going on, but Dave, with this one, I really have no clue what is happening and I am not sure it even matters.”  I now had permission to know that my appreciation for True Detective had nothing to do with my ability to follow any part of the central mystery that I freely admit had me completely lost.

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) When the closing scene between Marty and Rust at the hospital faded to dark, the light that my Dad and I thought we couldn’t see all season had actually been seen all along.  The identity of the Yellow King and the corruption that surrounded the eventual scarred face of the serial killing didn’t really matter to us viewers (even though his schizophrenic accents were of great intrigue).  The central mystery was just a device to tell the true story of these two detectives and because it was something they obsessed over, we were along for ride after ride, as ill-advised and remote as they often were.  All along, True Detective was always just about Marty and Rust and their internal battles between light and darkness.  One of the chattering critiques of this first season of True Detective was its surface level and often one-noted depiction of women.  I now get, as frustrating as it was at times, why this was a justified byproduct of a consummate adherence to the central conceit.  Our story was through the lens and into the depths of Marty and Rust’s eyes and souls.  Anything else, including woman that either informed them (as Maggie, reliably, certainly did) or informed us (Marty’s sea of affairs) about this light and darkness struggle, were there to support our understanding of the truth of these two detectives.

To rebuke some of the inevitable “that was it” backlash that comes from a mystery ending that didn’t matter too much in the first place, True Detective leaves three primary legacies in its high grassed swamps of Louisiana.  The first is in its storytelling form.  To set most of the story in three distinctive time periods, often without confirming the circumstances or solvency of the given truth, felt at times revelatory.  Lost played with this time period jumping trope, but eventually and disappointingly toward a science fictional end.  In contrast, for a while there, True Detective’s interest level stemmed from questioning the circumstances of the 2012 present (Rust Cohle beer can after beer can-crushing and all) set against the plot moving and “A story” 1995 past.  Maintaining this type of uncertainty about the show we were actually watching for most of the season gave each episode a burst of intrigue.

The second takeaway from True Detective, although at times leading to a restrictive tunneled vision, was the complete execution of a series by one writer and one director.  If you are to make me pick sides, I am more on Team Director Cary Fukunaga (not back for season two – the cinema is calling) than on Team Writer Nic Pizzolatto (back for more truth and lies in season two), but the consistency of this one unified vision certainly can be felt throughout the series (I think a few more idea cooks in the creative kitchen would have been of benefit, but the end result did by no means suffer all that much).  Like the now understood “a case study of two characters” was why to watch the series, Pizzolatoo and Fukunaga and their pursuit of greatness was why watching was so enjoyable.

The final lasting legacy of True Detective will be as a brilliant model for the ascension of the television medium through the casting and subsequent performances of its two lead actors, Matthew “2014: see the year of” McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.  It was not lost on me as I watched McConaughey’s gut-wrenching and flawless final monologue that I had just spent eight hours of television with the reigning Best Actor (I still think Leo should have won!) Academy Award-winner.  McConaughey and his inevitable Emmy win (a confident prediction on this March day) speak to how television gives to character and story in a way that film cannot.  Our relationship with Rust Cohl and Marty Hart over eight hours provides a different degree of depth and understanding.  I hope this more flexible forum (in terms of schedule) that True Detective pioneered for truly great movie actors like McConaughey and Harrelson to have such freedom to explore characters in a more meaningful way will set the tone for other future limited series.  For now, we can speculate who will fill the big shoes that McConaughey and Harrelson have left to a new set of season two lead actors and relish in the journey that was into the cavernous deep of Marty and Rust’s truth.  L’Chaim!

The British are coming! The British are coming!

HBO announced that the new satirical news comedy series featuring the best fill-in host in the history of television will be called Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and will be debuting on Sunday, April 27 at 11:00 PM.  If you have not spent time with this long-time Daily Show Correspondent, you have been missing out and should tune in.  If you have been one of his ardent fans and followers, April 27 cannot come soon enough.

Hey HBO!  Way to kill it in 2014.