It has been a very busy week as I have been involved in making some preparations for my son’s wedding, taking in a bit of live theatre (Kinky Boots in Toronto and Carousel in Stratford) and playing lots of golf. I’ve had a hard time staying on top of new shows that have been quietly premiering and some that have quietly disappeared due to low ratings as described below.
Last week I was late in promoting the new BBC series Banished about the early colonization of Australia by British convicts. I did manage to catch the first episode (CBC Mondays at 9) and although it was understandably brutal (an angry and resentful troop of British soldiers, who are also living in exile, serve as the jailers in Australia), there are moments of humanity that give some relief from the harsh living conditions for the prisoners. As this is a period drama featuring costumes and British accents, I have no choice but to continue watching. Trailer below:
I was also very late in realizing that CBC was also airing a new Aussie sitcom starring Josh Thomas called Please Like Me (2 episodes Friday 9:00 – 10:00). This series is about a young man who is exploring his sexuality as he matures and realizes that his family has no idea of what’s going on. It has had a rapturous reception in Australia and has run 3 seasons there.Trailer below:
I have also been remiss in reminding people that the very quirky comedy Welcome to Sweden has begun airing its second season on NBC Sundays at 8. Sadly as I double checked its availability tonight, I realized that the show has quietly been cancelled due to low ratings. Starring Amy Poehler’s brother Greg, it is based on his real life experiences in moving to Sweden and marrying his girlfriend. Please try to catch up with this series online. It was pretty groundbreaking for a US network program as it very slyly explored the differences between US and Swedish culture and much of the show’s dialog is in Swedish with English subtitles. Trailer below:
In a similar vein, I did thoroughly enjoy all 3 seasons of the Netflix series Lilyhammer starring the Sopranos’ Steve Van Zandt. This series, which happily is still available on Netflix, was also a fish out of water story and poked great fun at the experiences of a Mafioso in the Witness Protection Program hiding out in a small town in Norway. Trailer below:
And now for something completely different. I had been asked by a friend if I had watched Mr. Robot yet so I was compelled to seek it out online, even though it will not premiere in Canada until September. Made for USA network, this series is truly original. This series follows Elliot Alderson, a young man living in NYC, who works at Alsace as a cyber security engineer. Elliot has social anxiety disorder, but connects to people by hacking them and acts as a cyber vigilante. He is recruited by a mysterious social anarchist known as “Mr. Robot” , and joins his team of hackers, known as “fsociety”. One of their missions is to take down one of the largest corporations in the world, E Corp (known as “Evil Corp” by Elliot), a company that Elliot is paid to protect. Although at least six episodes have aired and are available to me, I have so far made it through only the first two episodes. I think it is exhaustion rather than lack of enthusiasm that has resulted in my not being able to binge watch this show in its entirety. On the other hand, perhaps I am developing some self control? Unlikely. Trailer below:
I have also been too busy to bingewatch two new Netflix summer comedy premieres, Wet Hot American Summer the Prequel (starring Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and others too numerous to mention from the 2001 original) and Staten Island Summer starring SNL alumni from the Lorne Michaels team. Trailers below:
As for my usual lineup of shows, please check my previous posts. Poldark is airing its finale tonight on Masterpiece Theatre from 9:00 to 11:30. That lengthy time period sounds ominously like an opportunity to include pledge segments, so beware and set your PVRs accordingly. Sometimes those pledge segments get a little out of control and cause the show to run late, so you might want to extend your recording time by an extra half our or hour, just so you don’t miss the end of the series. Trailer below:
Last Sunday marked the end of WW1 drama The Crimson Field which had aired immediately after the Poldark series. There were many heartbreaking moments in its finale as the love story between Sister Joan Livesay and her German soldier concludes, the ongoing treachery of Sister Quayle builds to a climax, and the triangle between Sister Kitty Trevelyan, Captain Gillen and Captain Hesketh-Thorne comes to an end. If you liked Call the Midwife (currently available on Netflix), you will love The Crimson Field. Trailer below:
I was delighted by the live musical Kinky Boots that I saw at the Royal Alex Theatre this week in Toronto. This show, music by Cindy Lauper, book by Harvey Fierstein, is based on a 2005 British comedy film. It is a positive tale about accepting people for whom they really are. It tells the story of a straight laced shoe manufacturer who befriends a drag queen and then converts his failing family business from being purveyors of fine British traditional footwear (like Church’s shoes) into a manufacturer of outrageously styled kinky boots aimed at the transvestite/drag queen community. Despite a multiplicity of very different takes on a British Midlands accent (the show is set in Northampton, UK) and a lack of really memorable tunes that follow you out of the theatre, I found the show particularly timely and touching in its theme of acceptance of people who are different (and it also features great dance numbers). In the same vein, Cait (formerly Bruce) Jenner’s reality show I am Cait debuted last Sunday night at 8:00 on E! channel. I enjoyed the Jenner show for its very sensitive depiction of her family (mother and two sisters) adjusting to her transformation from male to female. Cait’s mother is particularly touching in her genuinely loving and accepting reactions to her new daughter. I realize that the issues of transgendered people may not resonate with many (one friend referred to the Diane Sawyer interview with Jenner as a freak show), but it has struck a chord with me. I am aware that Jenner is exploiting his own experiences for financial gain, but if the series prevents bullying and suicides, it will have been worthwhile.
I also saw Carousel at Stratford this week. This show debuted on Broadway in 1945 and features some of the most beautiful music ever composed by Rogers and Hammerstein including “If I Loved You” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It is about a carnival barker named Billy Bigelow who falls in love with a simple mill worker named Julie Jordan. Played by Gordon Macrae and Shirley Jones in the 1956 film version, those performances are indelibly etched into my memory. It’s a bit hard to see Alexis Gordon who does have a lovely soprano voice but whose diction is vaguely ethnic and very contemporary replace Jones. There is colour blind casting in this production and almost all the multiracial actors struggle with having some kind of generic New England chowdah Boston accent. They all go for a folksy g-dropping version to show that they are in a disadvantaged class of fishermen and factory workers. The most disturbing element of the show is its theme of domestic violence. The original script’s message is that if someone you love hits you then it doesn’t hurt. There is a spiritual aspect to the story as Billy Bigelow kills himself after he commits an attempted robbery, and is then offered the chance to return to earth and help his daughter go through a turbulent adolescence. Just as he had struck out at Julie with violence during their marriage, he loses his temper with his daughter and slaps her as well. He is filled with remorse for his violent actions and the original message of the play seems to be that if you are genuinely sorry for striking out in anger, you will be redeemed. This view hasn’t aged well over the last 70 years and is a bit jarring in today’s theatre. How interesting that Stratford has presented a 70-year old Broadway musical with a very dated attitude to domestic violence and womens’ issues with the same reverence with which we view Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Wilde, etc. There has been no attempt to modernize the play’s viewpoint and it’s presented as a classic of American musical theatre. Very thought provoking. I would say that the beauty of the musical’s score and its wonderfully staged dance numbers brought the audience to its feet at the end, and it’s unlikely that most of my fellow theatre-goers were troubled by the show’s current political incorrectness.
On that note, please enjoy the magnificent summer weather we are currently experiencing. It’s a gorgeous summer day here in Thornbury and my flowers need to be deadheaded!