Category Archives: Television

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Say what you want about Robert Crawley (aka Lord Grantham on “Downton Abbey”), but for all of his formal wear and and fussy lifestyle, he’s at heart a guy’s guy.

I can hear a collective “Say what!?” But hear me out.

For so long, the concept of a “guy’s guy” has been seen as someone whose sole interests are guzzling beer and spending time in a man cave watching sports on TV or porn online.

I think there is nothing wrong with any of those activities, but it misses the larger — more complex — makeup of what men are about.

For that reason, if you look beyond Robert’s dinner jacket, you will be surprised to see how much of his character aligns with being a guy’s guy.

He is prideful and has a frail ego: A veteran of the Boer War, Robert has hurt feelings when he is not called up to active duty on the front lines in World War I. He is instead relegated to wearing a uniform to serve merely as “a mascot,” he says, back at home.

He is loyal: Robert demonstrates his loyalty any number of times and ways: In hiring Bates and in finding it in his heart to keep Barrows on staff after his suicide attempt. When William Mason, a footman, is confronted by protesters who give him a white feather for allegedly being a coward for not serving in WW I, Robert throws them out of the house.

He knows how to keep confidences: He gets wise to the connection between Edith and Marigold but he knows how to acknowledge it with his wife and daughter but at the same time keep it within the family. Among men, exercising discretion and keeping  information under wraps is a trait that is highly valued.

He has foibles: Robert dabbled in a dalliance with a lady’s maid. Robert is not without his shortcomings but he demonstrates that over the long haul, his set point is to be someone with a good heart.

He likes his drink: Hey, who does not like to have a good adult beverage once in a while?

He is crappy about taking care of his health: Not saying necessarily that this is an admirable trait. It is just one that a lot of guys share in common. (Bonus points: Robert  is also a lousy patient. I can relate to that.)

He loves his family: Through any number of trials and tribulations, he has gone to lengths to help his daughters. Look at the way he softened his heart to welcome Tom into the family after first bristling at the idea of him as his son-in-law.

He’s willing to throw down when the moment calls for it: Robert got white-hot jealous (though turns out with justification) over the undue interest that an art collector showed in Cora. When Robert finds the collector, Robert Bricker, and his wife in their boudoir, he proceeded to sock it to the guy.

He is a good boss: While a clear hierarchy exists between servants and those served, Robert does not treat the staff as merely the hired help. He’s reserved around them perhaps but he does treat them well and with compassion. Look at what he did for Miss Patmore for her nephew, who was a deserter in World War I. While Robert did not include the nephew in the main war memorial, he did commission a separate plaque honoring his service and sacrifice. It was a touching and moving gesture.

He loves his dogs: Look at the way he mourned the death of Isis and then melted when his mother left him with a new puppy that Robert named Tiaa.

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Life After “Downton Abbey” For Its Characters

The series finale of “Downton Abbey” is Sunday night but that does not mean the characters do not carry on with their lives.

Here is a glimpse of what happened with some of the major players post-DA:

Mrs. Patmore: Moved to Nevada where brothels are legal, and opened her own house of ill repute, Patmore’s Playpen.

Mr. Carson: Became an eyebrow transplant donor.

Mrs. Hughes: Was acquitted of assault after beating Carson within an inch of his life with a spatula after he complained one too many times about her cooking.

Anna and Mr. Bates: They lived happily ever after. No, seriously. Really.

Mary: Underwent heart transplant surgery to install the one she did not have.

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Cora: Successfully underwent surgery to have more than one facial expression.

Mr. Barrows: Joined a punk goth band. (Tell me you can’t see it…)

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Edith: Founded an app dating service called Losr that connects people who are destined to be in ruined relationships.

Lord Grantham: Known for his financial acumen, Robert became homeless after investing with Bernie Madoff.

Mr. Molesly: Became a rugby player after deciding it was less of a contact sport than teaching the children from the village.

Marigold: Pressed stalking charges against her mother.

Tom: Presidential campaign manager for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders.

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Spratt: Moved to the United States where he started a successful advice column under the nom de plume “Ann Landers.”

Denker: Joined Darth Vader’s Imperial forces as a stormtrooper and was killed in her first battle. No one misses her.

The Dowager: Became chief ruthlessness officer in the Nixon White House.

Dr. Clarkson: Exasperated and frustrated, he decided humans were way too much of a pain to deal with and became a veterinarian.

Daisy: Became a double O agent for MI6, with 34 confirmed kills.

Lady Rosamund: Runs a home for wayward single mothers.

Isobel: Created a line of bobble head dolls that say “I told you so.”

Baxter: Is still sewing.

X-Files Reboot? I Want to Believe But Can’t

A recent issue of “Entertainment Weekly” featured a cover story about a reboot of “The X-Files” with the series’ original stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

The news fills me with a mix of excitement and dread.

I was a late-comer to “The X-Files” in the 1990s, but once I was introduced to the series, I plunged into it like a scalpel in an alien autopsy.

As a kid, pre-“X-Files,” I had a particular fascination for all things unexplained.

I devoured books on UFOs and articles on Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, alien abductions, etc.

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I was a big fan of the late Leonard Nimoy’s series “In Search of…” that explored the mysteries of the world.

“The X-Files,” with its combination of creepy, paranoid, funny and inventive plot twists, coupled with the witty repartee between Mulder and Scully, made for a great escape for one hour a week on Sunday nights.

I hesitate though to think about a reboot.

In many ways, “The X-Files” was a product of its time:

There were deepening divisions and a growing distrust about Washington, an uncertainty about the world as the school shootings in Columbine and the stand-off in Waco, Texas, dominated headlines and as the U.S. sought to redefine itself in the world after the end of the Cold War.

Somehow the show tapped into those uncertainties by presenting story lines that challenged your beliefs about the “known world” and your confidence in institutions like the government and schools.

Viewers could take a perverse pleasure in “The X-Files” as a safe outlet for these anxieties.

“The X-Files” was also just good, fun television.

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The young Mulder as the believer in things mysterious and Scully as his skeptical science-grounded partner made for a terrific contrast and interplay of ideas.

Add a dose of simmering sexual tension (when will they ever get it on?!), conspiracy-laden plot lines (hello Cigarette-Smoking Man!) and some loveable but smart goofballs (The Lone Gunmen), and you had the equivalent of television potato chips: You kept coming back for more.

Part of the fun for me was getting on the phone with a friend immediately after an episode and trying to unravel what had just happened.

So, yes count me as a big fan.

But…the movies were an affront to all that the TV series had built. And, not to engage in ageism, but part of the appeal of the original was having the baby-faced (bordering on naïve), Scully and Mulder teaming up to uncover the truth.

I think Duchovny and Anderson have only matured in their acting chops, but will a series about mid-to-late career FBI agents investigating the paranormal in a modern age of Google, smartphones and social media be as engaging as the original, which was technologically in the Stone Age?

At a time of NSA spying and a pervasive cynicism about government, the kinds of bogeymen that were the signature of “The X-Files” would likely be overshadowed by real-life world events.

As excited as I would be by a reboot, and as much as I want to believe in it, it might just be best to X-out a reprise of this excellent TV series.

Amy Schumer and Other Viewing

Watching Amy Schumer’s brand of comedy is a bit like my visits to the chiropractor: She drives her fingers into your most tender pressure points.

In the case of Schumer, she hits those spots to bring about comedic relief to topics that are fundamentally damn serious.

Misogyny. Gender inequality. Misperceptions about women perpetuated in our culture.

I have only been recently exposed to Schumer’s work in the summer movie “Trainwreck,” written by Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow.

(A disarming, delightful movie that felt a bit too much like listening to a Schumer stand-up act but nonetheless charmingly romantic in the end. And spoiler: LeBron James, playing himself, utterly steals the movie.)

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I have not watched Schumer’s hit show “Inside Amy Schumer,” but watched a couple of her sketches, including “Last F**kable Day” and the parody black-and-white sketch of “Twelve Angry Men,” where the premise is a jury has to decide whether she is “hot enough” to merit her own TV show.

My take based on what I have seen of her work so far?

Not since Bea Arthur appeared in the Norman Lear sitcom “Maude” in the 1979s and stoked debates about abortion, women’s rights and gender roles has there been a comedian as hilariously provocative on these topics as Schumer.

In this latest podcast of About Men Radio, Pedro and I discuss Schumer’s profile in the world of entertainment, her messages and how and if they are effectively delivered.

Is it the height of irony that two guys on a show called About Men Radio discuss someone like Schumer, who consistently does such a great job skewering how men view the world?

But wait! There’s more!

We also veer off into a conversation about what else we’re watching in the world of TV and streaming video.

We discuss “Deadwood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Transparent,” “Justified,” “The Shield” and Janet Jackson’ boob flying out at the Super Bowl.

What?!

If that’s not enough, we introduce the concept of the “pussycat list,” – those actresses and actors who are favorites because of their acting chops or simply because they are easy on the eyes.

And listen in vain as I try to recall the name of an actor and utterly suffer from mental vapor lock.

It’s not pretty but it’s fun listening.

“The Americans”: A Great 80s Throwback

If you think watching “Mad Men” is a time warp, you’ve got to watch the FX TV series “The Americans.”

The show, which just wrapped up its third season, is a delight for those of us who came of age in the 1980s.

For the uninitiated, the series’ plot centers on a husband and wife who were recruited as teens in Mother Russia by the KGB and implanted in the U.S. as deep, deep covert spies.

They blend in with the tapestry of American life in a way that no one would suspect they are masters of espionage.

And don’t be fooled.

The lead characters, husband and wife Philip and Elizabeth, are not some Russian spy knock-offs like Boris Badenov and his sidekick, Natasha Fatale, from the “Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” of my youth.

No, they are truly bad ass.

As a couple, they engage in all kinds of counter-intelligence, blackmail and violence. And did I mention – plot twist! – that they have an FBI agent as a neighbor?

But apart from all of the mind-bending turns, suspense and intrigue, the thing I so absolutely love about the show is the way it nails the look and feel of the 80s.

“The Americans” is set during the height of tensions between the U.S. and USSR when Ronald Reagan was president, an anti-missile defense shield positioned in outer space was considered a real possibility and the threat of nuclear holocaust hardly seemed far-fetched.

The show captures that universal unease and brilliantly reflects the styles in clothing, cars and culture of the 80s.

The women are depicted in oversized glasses, multi-colored sweaters and big hair.

The TVs in the series play news segments and commercials of the era.

And the cars! Oh! The cars! These huge tanks are glorious to behold.

But the thing that might have won me over more than anything is when this third season featured snippets from a duo known as Yaz and music from their debut album “Upstairs at Eric’s.”

Yaz and those songs hold a special place in my heart because I saw those performers live at a club called The Ritz in the Village way back when I was in college.

Bottom line: If you want to enjoy great television AND want to be transported back in time, catch “The Americans.”

Why “House of Cards” Season 3 Sucked

Francis, Francis, Francis.

I am so disappointed in you. I would tell you to stand in the corner but in the Oval Office that would be pointless – much like this season’s “House of Cards.”

How pointless was it? Let us count the ways… (Spoilers abound here but I assure you, nothing is more spoiled rotten than this season.)

In no special order:

  • People referring to the president as “Frank,” including the former owner of his favorite rib joint? Nah, I don’t think so.

I don’t care that you knew him when. I find it hard to believe childhood friends are going around saying: “Yo! Barack! Dude, how’s it hangin’?”

(Note to Pedro, John, Rich and Silvio: When I am elected to the White House, I won’t expect you to call me “Mr. President,” but you will have to genuflect and kiss my ring.)

  • You’re going to start a small fire in the Oval Office and no smoke alarms are going to go off?
  • The chief of staff disappears for days at a time (stalking and ultimately killing a girl who represents a loose end) and no one bats an eye at his absence. Yeah, I know. He was not officially chief of staff at the time and he was on the cusp of being announced, but c’mon…
  • Nowhere near enough good sex scenes or nudity.
  • Oh yeah, the president is going to – on the spur of the moment – meet another head of state in the middle of some godforsaken battleground. And then they dress him up looking like Michael Dukakis? Yeesh!
  • Remy turns to a total wuss. End of story.
  • You mean to tell me the president of the United States is going to take a leak on his dad’s grave and there is not going to be a photographer with a long lens shooting that or someone who visits the grave site immediately after and notices an odd stain on the tombstone?
  • The first lady passes out giving blood and there’s only a nurse who is immediately there to tend to her but her security detail is apparently nowhere to be seen?
  • Claire Underwood’s departure in the final scene of the season struck me as absurd. She declares she’s leaving Frank but she walks out clutching her handbag looking like Ruth Buzzi from “Laugh-In.”
  • The president really makes a recess appointment, naming his wife as United Nations ambassador?

Yes, some of my beef with the third season revolves around a lack of real-life details. But overall it felt disjointed and riddled with plot holes.

What makes Season 3 so crushingly disappointing is that Season 1, by contrast, was electric with tension and surprises as power-hungry Frank and Claire schemed and manipulated their way forward.

Season 2’s first episode was a WTF moment when Frank pushes the reporter in front of a train (!) and then the rest of the season got mired in trade war dialogue reminiscent of the arcane trade disputes at the center of the “Star Wars” prequels.

So it was that I had high hopes that “HOC” would redeem itself in Season 3. It featured maybe two good episodes and a couple of tense, well-executed scenes.

But overall, I didn’t like the way women were either treated or portrayed in this season (expendable or there merely to do Frank’s bidding) and the inexplicable introduction of characters (the book author is recruited by Frank, who thinks he can control him?!)

At least Douglas was true to his dark character throughout.

Bottom line: I’ve cast my ballot and I’m voting the incumbent out of office.

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AMR 06: About Men and Horror TV

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Just when you thought we’d never foist another one of our knuckleheaded escapades onto the unsuspecting public we unleash the sixth episode of our addictive little gabfest.

This time around Silvio joins us from AMR headquarters in Florida while we check in from the AMR Compound deep in the Pennsylvania forest to discuss horror movies, television, and horror television.

As always, it’s not about all men. Just us men.

Movies of Yesteryear Are Family Viewing Time of Today

“Get to the choppa!”

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

“Game over man, game over!”

Classic movie quotes. Together with my good friends from About Men Radio, we quote our favorites frequently. We are all of the same era, most of us the same age, hitting the mid-century milepost in the same year.

We love these movies. We watch them over and over, but we unknowingly view them with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. With these specs on, our heroes and our movies can do no wrong. They are perfection. And boy, do we love to quote them.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

But the true test of time for our beloved classics is the scrutiny of today’s teenagers. In the La Frossia household, I put up my classics to the viscious, modern critical eye of my kids.

All three of them teenagers, ranging from 13 to 18. Will they revel in the satirical violence of “RoboCop”? Or will they cut it down to size for the terrible sins of cheesy dialogue, phony sets or non-convincing FX?

“Your move, creep.”

What ends up being the most fun for each movie viewing is delighting in the reactions of my kids.

If the time is right, I will announce to the family that it is “Retro Movie Night.” It is sometimes received with a groan.

For them, they have to be in the “right mood” for a Dad classic. I usually win and I present a title for the evening.

I typically get bombarded with questions, especially when I mention a title and tell them to trust me and I do not give them a preview description.

Sometimes I get the most genuine reaction because they never heard of the movie, such as the original “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3.” My kids have never visited the Big Apple, so they have never experienced a subway, much less one from the 1970s.

And they didn’t need to. The expertly crafted movie that is TToP123 quickly engrossed them and they bought into the suspense and drama.

“We had a bomb scare in the Bronx yesterday, but it turned out to be a cantaloupe.”

But that was an easy one because it is considered by many movie experts as a timeless classic. How will they react to a Dad classic such as “Westworld”? With its ’70s special effects, ’60s computers and Yul Brynner?

“Your move. Draw!”

They overall liked the movie. Of course, the snickering at the hovercraft effects, the comments about the computer command control — they informed me that they held more power in their iPhone than was in that control center — and the comments about Yul’s accent for a western U S of A gunslinger were intense.

The banter though added another layer of fun to my classics and gives me a chance to enjoy them all over again, almost as if seeing it for the first time as I live it through their eyes and join in their commenting.

“Get your stinkin’ hands off of me you damn, dirty ape!”

Thanks to an extensive VHS and DVD collection as well as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon I have a wealth of classics to unleash on them. If they are to enjoy today’s future classics like “The Hobbit,” “Lord of the Rings” or the Harry Potter franchise, they need to see “Jason and the Argonauts” and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad.”

To love “Pacific Rim” they have to experience “Destroy All Monsters.”

It’s my duty as a dad that they get that.

“I’ll be back.”

 

Was “Breaking Bad” The Best Ever? Not So Fast, Sparky…

Dear fans of “Breaking Bad”:

I realize that what I am about to say could get me dumped into a melt-resistant plastic barrel, my body bathed in a chemical stew and shipped off to hazardous waste facility somewhere but I have this to tell you after having just finished all five seasons:

“Breaking Bad” was good. Did it live up to all the hype? The “best TV ever” as some proclaimed? Addicting as blue meth?

No, not by a long shot.

Don’t get me wrong. I think what Vince Gilligan did aesthetically with the show — especially his use of light, his play with shadows and with the off-kilter, strange point-of-view camera angles — was just inspired. And I also liked what he did with the musical soundtracks woven through different episodes.

I enjoyed some of the interplay between Jesse and Walt, some of the harrowing situations they got into and, of course, the comic relief of Saul Goodman.

But I just could not get knocked off my feet like a meth head taking another hit on a pipe.

Sure, I get it: Walt White is transformed from a meek, but brilliant and undervalued high school chemistry teacher into a thug drug kingpin who in the end is portrayed as trying to redeem himself from his wicked ways.

I thought the first season was the best of the bunch. But for the life of me, I cannot see how viewers could binge watch on these episodes. Dark, exploitative and at times weirdly uncomfortable to watch — like watching your friend’s parents argue in front of you, the shows were sometimes stultifying. I mean, I watched some and then just wanted to run away from the TV set, never mind watch another episode right away.

To Gilligan’s credit, no detail was too small to observe and weave into the plot or episode. And I do admire the titles he gave to the shows. I found Aaron Paul’s performance as Jesse to be outstanding and convincing; Bryan Cranston’s as WW, well, here’s where the show kind of left the rails for me.

After you’re about halfway into the series, it’s clear that Walt has crossed a line from which there is no turning back, yet the show’s writers still tease the viewers into believing that somehow Walt’s intentions are not so bad: He cares about his family. He cares about Jesse. He really wants to take out the “bad guys” and somehow do right by others.

Lost in all of this is that this guy is cranking out meth, for crying out loud.  Not to sound like a Nancy “Just Say No” Reagan acolyte, but
I’ve seen what kind of damage meth can really do to people. It ain’t pretty or trivial.

Walt starts out almost as a sympathetic Willie Loman-like character who you practically can root for. But well into Season 3, Walter was clearly the anti-hero, if not the anti-Christ. Why should I as a viewer be invested in him?

I couldn’t ID with his distorted values as a dad, bread winner or husband. The guy was a stone-cold killer who engendered no sympathy from me. He became an ordinary criminal who just happened to have a genius for science and chemistry. I felt a greater emotional connection with Tony Soprano, even after he whacked his cousin, than I did for Walter.

The wrap-up of “Breaking Bad” left me with an impression that the writers wanted us to feel that Walter had redeemed himself by making amends and seeking out what we were supposed to believe was much-deserved revenge. Even the closing scene had Walter splayed out, almost Christ-like.

C’mon.

No, in the end, unlike his myriad hungry customers both in North America and overseas, I wasn’t buying what Walter White was selling.

In the end, Walter White left me feeling pretty gray.