Category Archives: TV

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Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Krysten Ritter

Once in a while an actress finds a role so perfect that it lets her punch through to another level entirely. Such is the case with the fascinating and unconventionally beautiful Krysten Ritter and her wonderful work as the title character in Netflix’s original series,  Jessica Jones. Netflix and Marvel have cleverly reimagined some of the more obscure protagonists in the Marvel Universe for TV, with Luke Cage and Iron Fist also getting their own series, and the compelling Jessica Jones shows just how satisfying it can be when relatively unknown superheroes get modernized and fleshed out in a morally complex world that is anything but black & white.

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And it is Ritter who enables Jessica Jones to reach it’s very fine full potential. At turns fragile and combative, cynical and idealistic, Ritter lets Jones’ damage show beneath the surface of her gamine good looks and her tough private eye facade. With it’s claustrophobic urban setting and her ominously dangerous nemesis, Jessica Jones inhabits a truly adult superhero demimonde, portraying sexual and mental subjugation in ways the big ticket franchises could never be bold enough to tackle. Add to that barely remarked upon interracial sex scenes between Jones and Cage, Jones’ use of her wits over her own seldom-deployed super strength and surprising eruptions of deadly, sanguineous violence, and Jessica Jones is a sophisticated vehicle that Ms. Ritter is wringing the very most out of.

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The 34-year old actress was born in rural Pennsylvania and was spotted by a modeling scout as gangly teenager in a local mall. With her throwback Coco Chanel looks, Ritter found herself in New York City in no time flat, where she was signed by the big agencies for print and runway work. With her lively and outgoing personality she made an easy transition into acting for commercials and television. She also made a concerted effort to act in theater, honing her acting chops even further.

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She had her first sustained TV work with a nice multi-episode role on the WB’s very popular hit, Gilmore Girls. That propelled her to supporting roles in features in the romantic comedies What Happens in Vegas with Cameron Diaz and Aston Kutcher, 27 Dresses with Katherine Heigl and She’s Out of My League with Jay Baruchel (all 2008) and again as the lead’s gal pal in 2009’s Confessions of a Shopaholic alongside Isla Fisher.

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But Ms. Ritter’s real breakthrough came with her remarkable portrayal of Jane Margolis during the second season of AMC’s legendary Breaking Bad. Effortlessly conveying the trademark tough-vulnerable qualities that would serve her so well in Jessica Jones, Ritter’s sexy tattoo artist and heroin-addict is a wonderful femme fatal and irresistible to the love-starved Jesse. So perfect was the role and the casting that one wishes Ritter’s Jane and Aaron Paul’s Jesse could have escaped Walt’s clutches and made their getaway to New Zealand. Instead the character’s death served to propel several profound plot twists going forward, and Ritter’s short-lived Jane Margolis was very much a vital deus ex machina. More than that, though, her performance was pitch perfect and indelible.

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An actor never likes to see a project get canceled but it was almost certainly a blessing when Krysten’s ABC sitcom Don’t Trust the B—- In Apt. 23 got the axe after two seasons. Yes the show was reasonably funny and Ms. Ritter was perfectly cast as the titular B—-. But the show’s demise created the opening for her to take her role of a lifetime in Jessica Jones. Now not only is her show one of Netflix’s top properties and a critical success but she will be featured in the multi-hero spinoff, The Defenders, slated to debut in 2017.  Alongside Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Jessica Jones will be keeping good company as these heroes team up to fight crime and injustice. And Krysten Ritter is sure to keep doing attention-grabbing work as one of the more interesting actresses out there.

Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Annabelle Wallis

There is a moment in the enjoyably pulpy biographical BBC miniseries, Fleming, when the actress portraying Muriel Wright, Ian Fleming’s wartime flame and proto-Bond girl, walks away from the camera in her full-body tan leather motorcycle courier’s suit. She looks over her shoulder with a develish grin and a flip of her blond locks as if to say a cheerfully insouciant goodbye to her none-too-loyal lover. It’s in that moment that the viewer realizes he’s watching an actresss destined for big things. That actress is the stunning Annabelle Wallis.

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The 31-year-old Briton was born in Oxford but spent her formidable years abroad in Portugal, where she became fluent not only in Portuguese but also French and Spanish. A niece of the legendary Richard Harris and cousin to the talented Jared Harris of Mad Men fame, it seems only fitting that Annabelle joined the family business. After several small roles she broke through in Showtime’s The Tudors as Jane Seymour, third wife to Jonathan Rhys Myers’ Henry VIII.

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From there she was in the regrettably short-lived retro swinging stewardess series, Pan Am, alongside fellow blonde bombshell Margot Robbie and the always excellent Christina Ricci. Then in 2014 she was the inspiration for the archetypal Bond girl in two memorable episodes of Fleming opposite the up-and-coming Dominic Cooper in the titular role. That year was good to her, as she was also a lead in the supernatural thriller Annabelle and back on TV making a big impression with a major role in BBC’s excellent gangster series, Peaky Blinders, as the complex Grace Burgess alongside Cillian Murphy’s fierce crime boss.

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With several more features in pre- and post-production, as well as a highly publicized romance with Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, Ms. Wallis is surely poised to keep her momentum going. And with such a diverse range of quality work already on her impressive resume can it be long before Hollywood sees what we see in the fair-haired lass and starts putting her in big time leading roles?

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True, with an attractiveness based on beautiful but not perfect features and sly wit, Annabelle is not the airbrushed, cookie cutter ingenue that makes her the “safe” pick for a leading lady. But with her impressive acting chops and that undefinable undercurrent of intrigue that she brings to every role, not to mention that fleeting, fetching smile, it seems to us that she’s the cure for the ordinary actress. We’d certainly take her in period costume or full length leather jump suit six days a week and twice on Sundays.

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Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Gretchen Mol

It’s not easy having a great second act as an actress in Hollywood, where 20-somethings rule and if you don’t break through by the time you’re 30 there are a dozen other fine young things ready to shove you out of the way. Which is not to say that the remarkable Gretchen Mol did not make an impact at a young age. In fact, no less than the cover of Vanity Fair asked if she was the “Next It Girl” in 1998 when she was just 26. But through no fault of her own, that seemingly instant fame led to blowback and heightened expectations that never seemed to be fulfilled. Until now.

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The 42-year-old blonde beauty was born in Connecticut and studied acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and the prestigious William Esper Studio, both in New York City. After work in the traditional training ground of New England summer stock, Mol was spotted by a talent agent and also photographer Davis Powell, which led to a cover on W magazine and a short-lived modeling career, as well as big buzz about her future.

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But her publicity always seemed to outstrip her achievements as an actress. Despite solid work in small budget Abel Ferrara films, some nice roles for Woody Allen and good part in the Matt Damon-Ed Norton card sharp caper Rounders (1998), Gretchen never found the broad popular success to break into the upper echelon of A-list actresses. Her lack of career momentum even led to The New York Times coining the term “Vanity Fair Cover Curse”. But she had a good small-scale success in both the stage and film versions of Neil Labute’s The Shape of Things, which seemed to give her renewed confidence.

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Finally being taken seriously as an actress and not just another pretty face, she delivered a breakout performance in 2005’s highly-regarded Indie smash, The Notorious Bettie PageHer complex, finely nuanced conception brought the infamous 1950s S&M pinup girl to life as something more than a half-remembered curiosity. With her fresh-faced sex appeal and sly humor and dressed in magnificent period lingerie and Bettie’s trademark dark bangs, Ms. Mol’s doppelgänger performance turned on a whole new generation to Page’s quirky erotic oeuvre, as well as the complex relationship between exploitation and empowerment.

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While contributing more quality work alongside Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the throwback Western remake 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and on TV as the female lead in the American version of Life on Mars (2008-9), Gretchen still found time to start a family with husband Kip Williams. This also led to her turning down work that strayed too far afield from her New York home. Despite this proscription, she landed her best and perhaps most important role in HBO’s groundbreaking gangster epic, Boardwalk Empire. Her seemingly sweet but incredibly twisted Gillian Darmody, a sort of Prohibition-era Medea, is a jaw droopingly complex character pulled off with consummate skill and chilling depth. Quite simply, Gillian Darmody is one of the great female anti-heroines in cinema/TV history, a scheming, deceptive monster of the first degree, and Gretchen plays her magnificently. With her work in Bettie Page and Boardwalk Empire, Gretchen served notice that she’s an actress who can hold her own with anyone on the A-list. As she enters her mid-40s as a fully mature artist we could well be looking at one of the great second acts by any American actress. She’s well on her way and my money’s on Mol to pull it off.

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Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Verena Wriedt

Our latest goddess comes to us from Germany and to my attention via Graham. Like many Americans, I had never heard of the enchanting Verena Wriedt and it was certainly my loss. But G took pity on my ignorance and pointed me towards a broadcast of the German Touring Car series, aka the DTM, a sort of Formula 1 for the Big 3 German automakers and their top sedans. And there was Verena doing superb work reporting from the pits.

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Ms. Wriedt working her day job

Not only is the fetching 40 year old perfectly fluent in English with just the barest hint of a sexy accent but, at the risk of pointing out the very obvious, the camera absolutely loves the blond beauty.

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Combining readily apparent smarts and quick wits with an upbeat and humorous approach to interviewing her subjects, it’s clear that if the sports networks here in the States were wise they would do well to import Ms. Wriedt and let her work her magic on American television.

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In fact, she got her master’s in broadcast journalism from Emerson College in Boston — magna cum laude, no less — so the lovely lass from Wiesbaden is already familiar with the American scene as well as the European one. Further adding to her international credentials as a true woman of the word, she’s also lived and studied in the Philippines and in England.

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It’s easy to envision Verena covering not just motorsports but also, say, the Olympics, equestrian events, big time skiing and sailing and even fashion if only some network honcho makes the obvious move to lure her away from the DTM. Because with that face, those brains and that talent, the sky’s the limit.

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RIP Leonard Nimoy, 1931 — 2015

Leonard Nimoy, an actor who became a worldwide cultural icon with his multifaceted portrayal of Mr. Spock in the groundbreaking 1960s sci-fi series Star Trek, died this past Friday at the age of 83. Nimoy’s characterization of the starship Enterprise’s First Officer functioned as the calm, intellectual super ego influence on Captain Kirk in diametric opposition to the id persona of the hyper-emotional Dr. “Bones” McCoy. The only alien crewmember in the original series, Nimoy gave creative life to the Vulcan philosophy of anti-emotionalism, logic and intellectual rigor and portrayed the consummate outsider bemusedly observing the confusing passions and paradoxes of the human species. In the series, the Vulcan race had long ago determined to exercise rigid control of their emotions in order to put an end the destructive internecine conflicts of their race. But as a mixed race man whose mother was from Earth, Nimoy also gave subtle expression to the human impulses beneath the surface of Spock’s greenish, pointy-eared exterior, which he sometimes struggled to control.

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With its futuristic vision of the USS Enterprise as a powerful but peaceful galactic explorer, representative of a vast United Federation of Planets including an Earth that had survived near-apocalyptic conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries, Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic creation was not an overnight sensation. Slowly but inexorably it gained in popularity, growing from a cult following during its short 3-year 1966-69 run on NBC into a global phenomenon, the relentless result of non-stop syndication, animated spin-offs, novelizations and popular paraphernalia & technical literature. By the time Star Trek was reborn cinematically a decade later in the aftermath of the mega-success of Star Wars, an entirely new audience was ready to receive its tales of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural space adventure, which Roddenberry sometimes slyly referred to as simply a “Western in space.” As the myriad sequels, prequels and entirely new associated TV series proved, Star Trek may have started out as geek culture but there was a hunger across a large segment of the world for this intelligently thought out future of our civilization and its flawed but noble heroes and charismatic super villains. And as geek became chic and the brainy outsider became the unlikely hero of a new industrial revolution in the Computer and Internet Age, it’s no great stretch to believe that it was Nimoy’s characterization of Spock, cerebral and outwardly implacable with hidden reserves of humanity, that helped inspire future computer titans like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in their youth. Building upon The Space Race mania of the 60s, Star Trek helped make science and technology as cool and appealing as the astronauts did — just ask all those fans who wound up working at NASA and in other engineering and technological fields. And, as not only the Enterprise’s First Officer but also its Chief Science Officer, no one was cooler than Mr. Spock.

The cast of the original Star Trek series and creator Gene Roddenberry meet the Space Shuttle Enterprise

The cast of the original Star Trek series and creator Gene Roddenberry meet the Space Shuttle Enterprise

Leonard Nimoy was also the cast member who had been with the franchise the longest, predating William Shatner’s Kirk and DeForest Kelley’s McCoy. Continue reading

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How some agency folks got us to stop hating their spots after all

Looks like the folks at Grey must have read my open letter and taken my advice — there are now something like 7 or 8 Robe Lowe spots running in the DirecTV campaign, all very funny and no longer driving us mad with the endless replaying of the original two.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Just spend gobs of money on production and the buy and let your creatives run wild. I’m sure your client is grateful despite all those expenditures because this campaign is a high profile success that also drives home the DirecTV > Cable argument. Win-win for all concerned and I’m happy I could be of service.

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An open letter to agency folks on how to get people to stop hating your spots

Dear ad agency creatives & account people,
I’m sure you’re tired of your friends and family telling you how much they hate the commercials you lovingly write, produce and work so hard to get your clients to grudgingly green light, not to mention the random vitriol from total strangers. Or the many dates that have ended in tears when you mention your work. Or maybe you’ve begun gradually obfuscating your profession in polite conversation, claiming you are in a more nebulous field like “marketing” or “branding” rather than owning up to the fact that you are, in a lot of peoples’ minds, a worthless suckfish clinging to the sleek and noble underbelly of their favorite TV shows.

Fear not! There is a simple way to regain pride in your work and earn the plaudits of your fellow man. You see, the majority of what you produce does not at all deserve such vituperation. In fact, most of it is quite amusing and well-crafted. In the best of your work, only one or two viewings create an indelible connection between the product and its benefit in the potential customer’s mind. And that should be a good feeling for you, shouldn’t it?

But here’s the rub: once we the viewing public see your little bit of genius 5 times in an hour, well, even the sweetest rose will begin to stink like a freshly opened can of lutefisk. And that not only tarnishes your formerly sterling work but also drags the client right into the crosshairs of our discontent as well.

Take, for example, this typically funny commercial for DIRECTV featuring Rob Lowe and his super creepy doppelganger.

Well done & kudos! Except that there are only two spots in this campaign so far and they have been played to death already. Continue reading

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Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Adriana Lima

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All right, so choosing the mega-gorgeous supermodel Adriana Lima for GLOW is a bit, how shall I put it, on the nose. But you have to give the devil her due: the Brazilian bombshell has been part of the big time fashion and pop culture scenes for over 14 years now, ever since she was anointed a Victoria’s Secret “Angel” back in 2000. That’s the modern day equivalent to Pin-Up superstardom and it instantly catapulted the Elite model, who had won Ford’s “Supermodel of Brazil” contest at the age of 15, into the stratosphere.

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Following that breakthrough, she was quickly signed to be the face of Maybelline in 2003 and also worked for Armani, Louis Vuitton, Versace, GUESS? and BCBG among many others. Of course, Ms. Lima’s lovely visage has also graced the covers of top magazines such as Harper’s, Vogue and Elle, as well as best-selling issues of GQ and Esquire.

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She’s also flirted with the art world, famously being photographed by artist Richard Phillips for cult fashion magazine Visionaire. Continue reading

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RIP James Garner, 1928-2014

When James Garner passed away the other week at the age of 86 I felt as if I had lost a favorite uncle. Wry, worldly wise, down to earth, a little cynical, a little cranky, very funny and definitely a man’s man, Garner was a uniquely successful and uniquely American actor. The native Oklahoman started out in 1950s television after a very brief theater apprenticeship, and quickly achieved fame in Maverick as the title character Brett Maverick, the dapper and quick-witted Old West card sharp who preferred talking his way out of trouble to shooting. He then rose to stardom as a romantic lead and action star during the last gasp of the old Hollywood studio system: alongside Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson playing the Scrounger in the all-star POW epic The Great Escape and wooing Julie Andrews in Blake Edwards’ sly, sophisticated anti-war comedy, the Americanization of Emily (Garner’s own favorite film). After the excellent Western comedy Support Your Local Sheriff and a foreshadowing turn as a bemused Marlowe, he found cultural immortality back on TV as the iconic and perpetually harassed ex-cop, ex-con gumshoe Jim Rockford.

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s, The Rockford Files was omnipresent, from the jaunty Mike Post theme song after the answering machine sequence to the initial run from 1974-1980 to the endless repeats in syndication. The series gleefully embraced a non-glamorous LA with the laconic and perpetually broke private eye working low rent bars and strip clubs while living in a cheap trailer home on Malibu beach, getting his meals from taco and hotdog stands and bouncing checks at the local grocery. It was a unique persona for a hero PI, totally at odds with, say, the slick rich kid mastermind of George Peppard’s Banacek. But then, maybe that’s why The Rockford Files went on to television immortality while Banacek, for all its tacky turtlenecked pleasures, is more of a fun footnote. There was just something so original about Jim Rockford as a hero: the loud sports coats with wide lapels; the wrongful conviction that gave him his cynical perspective; the beatdowns given and received; the clever ruses and identity games when on assignment; his meddling and very funny father (Noah Beery); and always a good old fashioned car chase in the mysteriously overpowered and rubber screeching gold Pontiac Firebird.

I told you that theme song was omnipresent! Garner was, in fact, an excellent driver and racer — he caught the bug starring in John Frankenheimer’s seminal racing movie, Grand Prix, competing in several grueling Baja 1000s thereafter — and did much of his own driving on the series, as well as many of his own stunts. Continue reading

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Worst Ad Campaigns — Carfax

There are annoying ads and then there are really annoying ads. The campaign for used car subscription database CARFAX.com has gone from the former, when it used to feature skeezy dealers with a fox puppet trying to dupe buyers, to the latter, with the agency doubling down on the creepy talking Car Fox spokesthingy and introducing a managerie of other critters to help uncover the true condition of potential used car purchases. Because nothing says “reliable detailed research” like a terrifying drop into the Car Fox’s secret high tech lair so talking CGI animals can report back to him about used cars. Or something. Wes Anderson this ain’t, folks.

I guess you could say it’s a little like a Disney movie with the customers being the nice humans transported into a magic world and the not-very-cute animals reporting on crash history instead of bursting into song. Uh, oh. I hope I haven’t given the creative team a new idea of where to take this damn campaign next. Because if there’s one rule of thumb I have for ads it’s that, along with omniscient talking babies, yappity animals are the worst sort of cheap trick used to obfuscate the lack of a clear, creative message with a cloyingly cutesy mnemonic device. Look, I admit the Carfax-Carfox ploy is so stupid it works on the most annoying level of simple association. But if those helpful little beasties start bursting into elaborate musical numbers I just may throw my flatscreen out the window.