The Ideal Leader, Shakespeare in New Jersey and The Vampire Slayer.
Straight up I need to tell you this. The latest Star Wars instalment is something I really don’t care about. In fact I have found the whole Star Wars thing to be uninteresting from the very beginning. Now I watch and listen to grown adults, men almost always, going on about its virtues and vices and I shake my head. Great music, special affects but cardboard heroes and villains, predictable plotting, unbearably cute robots and side characters. I never will get it. And ditto for Star Trek in all its variables before the Enterprise crew get all excited.
The best Sci-Fi movie from that period was Alien and actually that was really a traditional horror movie anyway. Just happened to be set in deep space but the SS Nostromo was a haunted house for sure.
As far as I am concerned aliens don’t want to drink in bars with us, in the future we won’t be wearing nifty space outfits like The Robinson family from Lost In Space and space is not an intergalactic western with goodies in white hats and baddies in black. Space is full of working guys and girls holding down jobs when they are not sleeping for so long that when they get back to wherever home is their children are older than they are. And if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time something very disturbing wants to kill you.
Marvel Comic movies also just pass me by although I did watch Deadpool as an afterthought, which was a good idea as it turned out to be piss funny. So obviously more and more, Hollywood is relying on the movie franchise, the sure bet to get it through. Which is understandable giving the state of play in the media world nowadays. It’s just that unlike Alien or the very first Star Wars even the first movie made in most of these series has little originality going for it.
And of course eventually be it The Bourne Series, reboots of 007 with different actors playing James Bond, The Fast and the Furious or horror originals like Halloween they all fall, sooner or later in a heap of same old same old.
Hollywood still makes some original movies and of course movies get made around the world but for me I just think it’s been slim pickings especially in the science fiction and horror genres with Bladerunner 2049 being the notable exception.
But on TV, well the viewing since around the turn of the century has been ground breaking, breathtakingly entertaining and across all genres. Plus you get so many more quality hours before the rot sets in. And eventually even with the time and money that TV content now has at its disposal to tell a story the rot will set in.
Some like Seinfeld decide to end it at the peak of their game and others even though their best is well behind them still outperform most on offer e.g. The Simpsons.
Others just went on for a bit too long and needed the tap on the shoulder. Despite some memorable jaw dropping moments and a great central premise The Walking Dead is at that point now. That said I will remember for the rest of my life the fifteen minutes after Rick first wakes from his coma and Carol putting down the murderous Lizzie.
There were/are so many good shows that unless you had all day every day you would never be able to take them all in. And not just American, we are lucky in Australia having ready access to both our own, UK television and now European productions.
In no particular order here is a taste of what we have had to enjoy, Game of Thrones, Kath and Kim, Madmen, The Wire, Friends, How I Met Your Mum, Breaking Bad, Offspring, Rake, Dr Who, House Of Cards, Downton Abbey, The Office, The Bridge. There are literally dozens more and with Netflix etc. now making their own content e.g. Stranger Things, the riches are only going to continue.
Of course the flipside is the huge amount of utter shit that is produced especially in the area of reality television.
For me the there were three shows that initially really grabbed me for the same reasons. All three were guided by a real TV visionary who put their own stamp on their show, the lead actor in each case never puts a foot wrong and the world they create in each case feels just right.
They were all fiction but one could be real life and I think a lot us wish another one of them was, particularly now as we live with Trump’s America.
The West Wing is a wonderful fantasy about the best world leader that never was. There was action, great ensemble acting, a different approach to script and dialogue and if a little farfetched the plots were always possible. Importantly your understanding of American politics was expanded while you were being entertained. 156 episodes of intelligent entertainment that went out on a high, The West Wing should be compulsory viewing for anyone going into public service. For the rest of us catch up with it again and be dismayed at where our politics is now but enjoy and hope.
Running at the same time as The West Wing was the drama The Sopranos. The story of Tony Soprano and his leadership of two families, one at home and one as a New Jersey crime boss is for my money the best drama ever made. The closest thing to a Shakespearean play made in and for the modern world of television.
As you would expect the language, sex and violence are confronting but the cast, the plots, the dialogue, just everything from the opening sequence of each show to the stunning ending of the final episode is 80 hours of stone cold brilliance. The growth of serial television shows is in no small way the result of the quality and deserved success of The Sopranos. Ten years of quality television later The Sopranos remains the champ.
A new slayer is born. Clever, witty, emotional, subversive, feminist and not afraid to tackle issues like drugs, sex and death alongside high school coolness, fashion and grades Buffy The Vampire Slayer does not have quite the same reputation as The Sopranos or The West Wing. And maybe in some ways it does not deserve it.
This is not world politics or big drama. As a forerunner in the golden age of TV the budget was not always there for the special effects, some of the plots are affectionate borrows from previous scary movies and not all the acting is first rate.
It is also true that there are 144 episodes and not all are gold.
But as a metaphor for teenage issues and growing up Buffy The Vampire Slayer is spot on and the warmth, drama and inventiveness in the best scripts is fantastic.
And sometimes it was really scary.
Buffy may have passed you by but if you enjoy John Hughes films like the classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, love a bit of horror and question why it always has to be the blonde girl getting killed by the monster you should be checking the slayer out.
So full credit to genius creators David Chase, Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon, their characters Josiah Bartlett, Tony Soprano and Buffy Summers and to the actors who brought them to life; Martin Sheen, James Gandolfini and Sarah Michelle Geller.
The Best Bits
Wow so many from each show makes this difficult.
Jaw dropping moments of The Sopranos for me include the demise of Adriana, Christopher’s quoting of Springsteen’s Born to Run and Silvio and Pauli beating a man with a hotel desk bell.
A lot of the best moments and also the most violent are around minor or day-to-day issues in the families, be they at home or in the “office” and not necessarily the big plot turns. The Soprano’s casual and sudden violence and our willingness to engage with it when superior movie/TV making surrounds seems to me to be a natural progression from Tarentino’s work.
My finest West Wing moment is when President Bartlett puts a Dr Jacobs in her place in episode 3 of season 2 titled The Midterms. Just love it; you can check it out on YouTube.
I don’t want to recommend any other particular episode as the story arcs cover multiple episodes and the number of actors well known or otherwise who bring the show to life demand you watch The West Wing as Aaron Sorkin intended, but special thumbs up for episodes that feature John Goodman, Alan Alda, Emily Proctor and Marlee Maitlin. None of who are in the core cast! What a show!
For Buffy any episode with Anya (Emma Caulfield) is a delight.
Personal favourites include The Pack, The Body, Something Blue, Band Candy, Once More With Feeling and Hush.
But with 144 to chose from…