Archive | TV Matters

A National Holiday for Julia

August 15 marks Julia Child’s 102nd birthday. That’s hardly a banner anniversary – remember the media celebration two years ago for her centennial? – but Julia Child deserves a red-carpet bonanza every year. Certainly her birthday should be recognized as a national holiday by the food world. If not for the late cookbook author and television host, its media empire wouldn’t exist – at least not in all the glory that it currently enjoys.

Yes, we have Julia to thank for all the Americans who eat something besides TV dinners every night. (The powers-that-be at Swanson may not feel so grateful.) But we also have Julia to thank for the glut of food porn, er, television that comprises an industry unto itself. The entire Food Network should credit Julia as its real founder. Without Julia, there’d likely be no Emeril Lagasse, Jamie Oliver, Tom Colicchio, Barefoot Contessa, or Pioneer Woman in our public eye. There’d probably not even be an Anthony Bourdain or a “Hell’s Kitchen.” (There’d still be a Rachael Ray, though. With her aggressive cheer and predilection for shortcuts and catchphrases, Ray always seems one gelatin mold away from being the new Betty Crocker.) Continue Reading →

Director’s Cut: Helming ‘True Detective’

When it comes to True Detective season 2, any news is fascinating news. Ever since Season 1 wrapped, the rumors surrounding HBO’s literary-minded goth detective series have been almost as mysterious as the show itself. Who will star in the next season? Where will it take place? And, most recently, who will direct it?

Earlier this week, director William Friedkin told Indiewire that he was considering joining the True Detective team, saying “I like this writer [creator Nic Pizzolatto] very much. I’ve met him, and he’s the real deal.” Though nothing is set in stone just yet, the prospect of this collaboration is a good one. Not only does Friedkin have a flair for psychologically compelling horror – he directed the original The Exorcist as well as that underseen study in paranoia, Bug, (all Michael Shannon fans should see it post-haste) – but he’s made some of the more distinctive cop movies in the history of American film: The French Connection and Cruising (which admittedly is a fail in the identity politics department). Indeed, his films – even 2011’s Killer Joe, which is mostly heralded for launching a McConaussance – build to a thrill by cultivating an appealingly broody familiarity he withdraws the minute we feel comfortable. Bottom line: There’s no director better suited to realize the rarified, yellow kingdoms of “True Detective.”

But assuming the seventy-eight-year-old won’t sign on to film every episode, it’s still worth considering who else might helm Pizzolatto’s moody masterpiece. Continue Reading →

Why ‘Hannibal’ Is an Acquired Taste

The following is a review I originally published in Word and Film.

The season two finale of “Hannibal” airs May 23, and most of us have no clue how it will end even if we’ve read Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, upon which the series is loosely based. That’s if we’ve been watching at all: The NBC show’s ratings have dipped perilously low though it’s been renewed it for another season.

Yet, aside from Sherlock Holmes, there may be no crime-novel figure who looms as large in our collective imagination as Hannibal Lecter does, and this show goes a long way toward explaining why. Like all of our most terrifying dreams, “Hannibal” seduces us before grabbing us by the throat. Ironically, that seduction relies mightily upon a moral and narrative ambiguity that also may be alienating audiences.

In the movies adapted from Harris’ books about the serial killer, Hannibal Lecter is larger-than-life – so much so that a little of him goes a long way. In 1986’s “Manhunter,” actor Brian Cox bases his portrayal less on the character’s literary antecedent than on the Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. The effect is plenty chilling but more brutish than we might expect of an aesthete whose declared foe is bad taste. In “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Red Dragon,” and the unfortunate “Hannibal,” Anthony Hopkins’ iconic take is more refined but also so hammy that it’s only palatable in small doses (cannibalism metaphors apparently being irresistible in this context). It’s hard to, ahem, swallow that the doctor wouldn’t eat someone else alive for such showboating, quid pro quo. And let’s not discuss Gaspard Ulliel’s turn as the young Lecter in 2007’s unspeakably bad “Hannibal Rising”; Thomas Harris was reportedly bullied into writing this film and book by those who held the cinematic rights to the character.

Then there’s Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal in the eponymously titled NBC show, which swoops in and out of a fidelity to Harris’ books with a discombobulating, off-kilter elegance that is this series’ trademark. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy