"Everything is as it should be."

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2019 TV Round Up

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ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 minutes 14 seconds

Once again the Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again no one cares. But since this Sunday night is supposed to be a celebration of the best of the best in tv, I thought I would briefly share my thoughts on the 2019 television fare I was able to catch.

I rarely write about television only because there is so much of it and I am so behind in watching everything that comes out. An example of which is that I literally just started watching 30 Rock for the first time a few months ago and that show went off the air in 2013.

The advent of binge watching, thank you Netflix, has changed the tv viewing experience so that audiences no longer simultaneously digest new material, but rather do it on their own time. I prefer this method of tv viewing, but it makes writing on the topic difficult and rather useless.

So, since I rarely if ever review television, I have decided to just throw together a cheat sheet of mini-reviews for the relevant shows I have watched this year. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated for Emmy Awards because I, like every other normal human being on the planet, do not care about the Emmys, in fact my indifference is so great I refuse to even do a google search to see the list of nominees.

So with my laziness established, let’s begin our review of 2019 television!

GAME OF THRONES - HBO: 4 Stars

I watched Game of Thrones from the beginning and as a testament to my limited intellectual abilities I readily admit I didn’t what the hell was going on 90% of the time and had no clue who half the characters were, but the show had an above average amount of nudity and violence, my two favorite things, so I was on board.

Game of Thrones was one of the very few, in fact I think only, tv show I wrote about this year. As previously stated the show’s final season was a definite mixed bag and was not nearly as good as the seasons that preceded it. That said, watching King’s Landing get obliterated was as exhilarating a visual sequence as we have seen in the history of the medium.

The cast of Game of Thrones have always done solid, if not spectacular work. I think Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage were among those who were the most spectacular.

THE BOYS - AMAZON: 4.5 stars

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The Boys is an absolute gem of a show that is the best kept secret on tv. I seem to be the only person who has ever watched the program and have become a sort of evangelist in favor of it. I have told countless friends that they have to check this thing out.

The Boys beautifully deconstructs the corporate superhero mythology that is the dominant myth of our time. If you are sick of Marvel and Disney’s dominance of the superhero space…then watch The Boys. The show is an insightful and piercing commentary on the American corporatocracy, and it pulls no punches. It eviscerates the empty headed corporate flag waving of the media, Disney in particular, and tells more truth in its fiction than the establishment news has ever done in its reporting.

There is a sequence in the show, and I won’t give it away, but it deals with the Hegelian dialectic (problem - reaction - solution) and it is the absolute truth of our time and is brilliant.

The show stars Jack Quaid, who is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quad. This is obvious but still kind of weird to see, but Jack is the perfect amalgam of his two famous parents. At times he looks exactly like his dad, and other times just like his mom…it is like he has his own weird famous parent morphing super power.

The rest of the cast, which includes Karl Urban, Antony Starr, Elisabeth Shue and Erin Moriarty, is top-notch and play their roles with aplomb.

The Boys is not perfect but it really is a fantastic show and a bolt of anarchist rebellious energy into the very stagnant super hero genre. This show actually made me yell in joy at one point at how subversive it is…I kid you not. Anyway, if you love super hero stuff, or are sick of superhero stuff…this is definitely the show for you.


MINDHUNTER - NETFLIX: 4.25 stars

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Mindhunter is produced, and sometimes directed, by filmmaker David Fincher. One of my favorite Fincher films, and one of my favorite films period, is Zodiac. Zodiac is a rare Fincher film in that it sort of flew under the radar, in fact I didn’t even see it in the theatre. But after discovering the film a bunch of years ago, I cannot get enough of it…and even use scenes from it when I work with clients. I watch Zodiac so often it has become a running joke in my house…and probably with the FBI agents who are surveilling me.

Mindhunter is like an extended and expanded version of Zodiac, as it is set in relatively the same time frame, and shares the same visual and artistic aesthetic. Mindhunter is, not surprisingly since it is a Fincher project, beautifully shot and lit and looks great.

The acting in the show is solid and subtle, as the main cast maintain a tight lid on things. The guest stars, who play a panoply of serial killers, are creepily fantastic in bringing their famous killers to life.

Mindhunter is, at its core, an extremely well made “cop” show that is decidedly smart and mature. This show is Fincher at his best….moody, unnerving, menacing, unsafe. The show is so well- made I think it would be impossible to watch it and not end up double checking the locks own your windows and doors before going to bed at night and also not looking at the nearly invisible normal people who populate our surroundings and thinking, at least for a moment, that they might be, or are at least capable of being, super predators.

FLEABAG - Amazon: 4.5 stars

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Fleabag is what feminist tv/film should be. It is not whiney and self serving with an axe to grind but aggressively funny and deeply reflective. Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and stars in the show and her performance is remarkable and her writing, scintillating.

The rest of the cast, which include Sian Clifford, Andrew Scott and the glorious Olivia Colman, give superb performances across the board.

What makes this show such an intrepid piece of feminist comedy is that the female lead has absolute agency, she is not a victim but an active participant in the mess that is her life. The plot of Fleabag is fueled by Waller-Bridge’s character’s actions, not by her responding to other people’s actions. If she is a victim it is of her own bad decisions, not of other people’s.

BLACK MIRROR - NETFLIX: 4 stars

Black Mirror really is a Twilight Zone for the 21st century. The show never fails to be unique, original, challenging and insightful and also never fails to surprise. Black Mirror boasts terrific writing, top notch direction and stellar casts.

What is great about Black Mirror is that all of the episodes are stand alone so you can watch them at your leisure. This season there are, at least so far, only three episodes and they are fantastic. The best of the bunch is “Striking Vipers” which is both shocking and funny.

I can’t remember being underwhelmed by any episodes of Black Mirror, but I can recall being completely freaked out by more than a few of them. (The one with the dog like hunting drones is stellar!)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE - HULU: 1.5 stars

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The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season was an electric piece of television. The fact that the show was in production prior to Trump’s election but spoke so eloquently about women’s anxiety after he won, is a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship that went into making it. The problem though is that the show, which was so compelling in season 1, quickly jumped the shark in season 2, and in season 3 has gone full Evel Knevel on a tricycle over Jaws in a kiddie pool.

It is difficult to overstate what a heinous piece of crap this show has become. The only equivalent I can think of is the precipitous fall of House of Cards which was like a speeding train falling off a cliff after its first few seasons.

Just like House of Cards downfall, what saps The Handmaid’s Tale of drama is that there is no longer any genuine threat to the main character June. June has become an avatar for the girl power people in her audience and thus is given no genuine obstacles to overcome, just manufactured ones, by the fan servicing producers.

At one point while watching one of the episodes in season 3 I said out loud to no one in particular…”I hate this show”…and I really have grown to hate it, which is frustrating because the show in the first season, and Elizabeth Moss’ acting in that season, were just mesmerizing. But now the show really has devolved into a pointless, rambling, dramatically incoherent, self-reverential mess and Moss’ acting little more than her not blinking in order to cry and acting faux tough. The bottom line is this, if Gilead were as awful and authoritarian as it is supposed to be, then June would have been swinging from the wall a long time ago. At this point I watch the show praying she gets hung and puts us all out of our misery.

The show is just so…stupid and frustrating…and the characters equally stupid and frustrating. In season’s 2 and 3 The Handmaid’s Tale has abandoned any semblance of a coherent internal logic and now just seems to be winging it. It is safe to say I will not be returning to Gilead for season 4.

WHEN THEY SEE US - NETFLIX: 1 Star

This show, which is about the very relevant and important story of the Central Park Five, is produced by Oprah and directed by Ava DuVernay….and it shows. That is not a compliment. This mini-series is just God awful. It is embarrassingly maudlin, shmaltzy and unconscionably ham handed.

This show will no doubt win a bunch of Emmys, but that is only because it is the sort of anti-Trump, anti-racist screed that Hollywood dipshits gobble up like Xanax. But do not be deceived, this show is atrociously poorly made. The cast, most notably Jharrel Jerome, are abysmal. Jerome sets the craft of acting back decades, if not millennia, with his corny performance as Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five.

What frustrated me so much about this mini-series was that it is based on what should be a dramatically potent true story, and a story that is so vital and relevant to our times. But in the hands of DuVernay, this story is sapped of any meaning, and instead turns out to be an emotionally manipulative piece of garbage better suited to the Lifetime channel than Netflix.

Sadly, this story of the Central Park Five is as true to life as the Central Perk Five of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe. Yikes.

CHERNOBYL- HBO: 4 stars

This mini-series which recounts the 1989 nuclear disaster, starts out great but loses some dramatic momentum late as it staggers to the finish line. Chernobyl looks great from start to finish and is elevated by some great acting, most notably from Jared Harris.

The weak link with the show is the script, as it falls into the tired Boris and Natasha evil Soviet caricature too often. The historical accuracy of the show has been called into question as well, but that is somewhat excusable, but the tired cliches of Soviet inhumanity are not.

The first few episodes of the mini-series were as good as anything on television this year, but the finale was decidedly disappointing and underwhelming. That said, I enjoyed it for the great cast and for how well it was shot.

ESCAPE AT DONNEMARA - SHOWTIME: 2.5 stars

Escape At Donnemara, which was directed by Ben Stiller, is a wholly uneven enterprise. Just like Chernobyl it starts off strong, then there’s a lull and then a significant dramatic and artistic spike in the second to last episode…but then it finishes with a whimper.

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Stiller certainly puts some artistic bows on the show, using music and sound and fading to black to nice effect, but ultimately the show only stays on the surface of things and there is never a sense that we are getting at any semblance of the truth.

One of the odd things about the show is that it can feel incredible slow, bordering on dull, and yet that leisurely pace pays no dramatic benefits because the narrative ultimately seems so rushed at the end of the day.

That said, I thought Paul Dano’s performance as Sweat was really phenomenal. Dano makes Sweat a real person, not some caricature. Dano’s Sweat is conflicted, with a vivid and pulsating inner life that is compelling to watch. The show would have been better served with more Paul Dano and not less.

Patricia Arquette’s performance is all show. Arquette’s Tilly is nothing more than a monotonous and endless droning on, and the acting never once reveals anything of use or honesty about Tilly.

Benicia del Toro gives what I would deem a rather lazy del Toro performance…we’ve seen this act before and it has grown tired.

Ultimately, this mini-series has its moments but ended up being unsatisfying.

VEEP - HBO: 4 Stars

Veep was good this season but not great. Of course, Veep had set the bar ridiculously high with its first six seasons, so topping it in the finale was always going to be a tough job.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the wonders of the world, and her performance as Selena Meyer was so great as to be iconic. The rest of the cast were their usual stellar selves as well.

That said, season 7 felt like the show had definitely run its course and in the age of Trump, where reality is much stranger than fiction, seemed a bit, dare I say it…tame.

I liked season 7, but I think it was the weakest of all the Veep seasons.

BARRY - HBO: 4.5 Stars

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Barry is awesome. This show perfectly captures the absurdity of the Hollywood experience for any actor trying to scratch out an existence and chase a dream. The acting class scenes are spot on and poignantly painful for their depiction of the shit show that is acting class in Hollywood.

What is so great about Barry is that it wonderfully mixes shocking violence with exquisitely subtle comedy. Few shows are ever able to do one or the other, but Barry is able to do both and do them extraordinarily well.

The straw that stirs the drink of Barry, is Bill Hader, who is a god send as assassin turned wannabe actor, Barry. Hader’s comedic timing and energy are exquisite, but it is his transformation into the ruthless assassin that makes the show real enough to be worthwhile. Hader is not just a funny man, he is a genuinely gifted dramatic actor, and his versatility is a rare trait indeed.

The rest of the cast, particularly Henry Winkler, are gloriously good. Winkler’s scene stealing work as Gene Cousineau is a stake through the heart of the ghost of Fonzie (hey, second Fonzie reference of this article!). Winkler perfectly captures the insincerity, dishonesty and desperation of those unfortunate souls who become acting teachers…I would know.

Barry is appointment viewing in my household.

Thus concludes my brief foray into television criticism, I hope you found it useful. My top picks this year are The Boys, Mindhunter, Fleabag, Black Mirror and Barry. None of those shows are for the feint of heart, so know that going in. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated or will win at The Emmys on Sunday night…and more importantly, I don’t care…and neither should you.

©2019

2018 Mid-Term Elections

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Ever since Trump was elected president in 2016, the media have declared that he would face a comeuppance in the form of vast Democrat victories, or as they call it, a “blue wave”, come the 2018 mid-term elections. While I would like to think that would happen…I don’t think that will happen.

As long time readers know, I was one of “those people” who, in the face of a cavalcade of opposite opinion in the media and in my social circles, accurately predicted Trump’s victory in 2016. As I said in my writing from that time, I didn’t want Trump to win (nor was I a Hillary supporter), I just thought he would. I ended up being right and we have all had to suffer through the never ending reality show that is Trump TV ever since.

The formula I used to predict Trump’s 2016 victory is my McCaffrey Wave Theory, which again, I am sure long-time readers are sick of hearing about…but what can you do? My wave theory uses, among other things, popular culture, most specifically, at least currently, film and television, as indicators of the mood in the collective unconscious. The formula of the McCaffrey Wave Theory is actually very complex and complicated, and takes into account numerous cultural and historical “waves” or “cycles” that are all simultaneously in motion.

Interpreting the data from these waves/cycles and measuring their relationship to one another is how the McCaffrey Wave Theory is able to “predict” certain turn of events. And to be clear, this is not about being Nostradamus and saying planes will fly into buildings on 9-11, but rather about understanding the ebbs and flows of the collective unconscious and knowing when both big and small shifts will occur when portions of the collective unconscious become conscious.

The key elements of the McCaffrey Wave Theory are the archetypes, narratives and sub-texts prominent in films/tv along with their color scheme and visual/cinematic tendencies. These data points are how my wave/cycle theory is able to discern which films and/or television shows are leading indicators and which are lagging indicators of the collective unconscious. Leading indicator films are the ones that express the unconscious desires/fears of the collective, while lagging indicator films are the ones that express conscious fears or desires of the collective.

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Some examples of leading indicator film and tv were pretty obvious in 2017 when HULU’s A Handmaid’s Tale (its narrative and vibrant red and green color scheme) and the DC film Wonder Woman (its narrative and red and blue color scheme) jumped to the fore of our culture in the early summer. These two successful projects accurately foretold of the coming feminist outcry and the rise of the #MeToo movement in the wake of the Weinstein revelations that came out in October of 2017.

A good example of a lagging indicator film was in 2017 as well, when Steven Spielberg rushed into production his thinly veiled anti-Trump/pro-Hillary film, The Post, that underwhelmed both at the box office and come awards time. The Post failed both artistically and financially because it was little more than wish fulfillment that attempted to give the audience what it wanted, not what the collective sub-conscious needed.

In the years leading up to the rise of Trump in 2016, there were numerous films and television shows that were ominous signs of a very dark impulse coming to the fore in American life and across the globe.

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Two glaring examples were HBO’s Game of Thrones with its marketing campaign which for years was warning us all with their ice-blue billboards proclaiming that “Winter is Coming”. The other was Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a show about what America would be like if the Nazi’s and Japanese won World War II, which hit the airwaves in 2015 accompanied by a prodigious marketing campaign which had the Nazi Eagle on the American flag and the Imperial Japanese flag plastered all over the New York subway and elsewhere. Both of those shows resonated within the culture because they accurately gave voice to what was lurking in our collective unconscious. On some level we knew what was coming…a horrible “winter” and the Nazi’s/Not Sees…and these shows knew it before we were even conscious of it. (and don’t kid yourself, the Nazi/Not See impulse is not solely of the right, the left has a strong Not See impulse too).

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In 2015 there were many films that were also giving us warning signs of big trouble ahead. The Martian, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens were all through their narratives, color schemes (Martian - Red, Hateful 8 - Blue, Revenant - Blue, Star Wars - Red and Blue) and cinematic visuals (shots of foreboding vast expanses) the equivalent of a flashing red sign that a gigantic storm was coming.

In 2016 things got even clearer, as the blockbusters Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and even La La Land all revealed through their narratives (internecine warfare), sub-text and color schemes (all of them with vibrant clashes of red and blue) that our cultural train was headed off the track if not the cliff.

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As I have previously written, last year cinema gave us some signs of what to expect going forward. The big archetype of the year in 2017 was Winston Churchill…with the films Dunkirk, Darkest Hour and the Netflix show The Crown. The Churchill archetype can be interpreted in numerous ways, but when seen in conjunction with other wave/cycles, it strikes me that the Churchill archetype is manifesting in the Trump’s of the world…in other words…it is actually the Churchill shadow archetype that is taking center stage.

Which brings us to this year and the mid-terms. As I said, there has been incessant talk of a blue wave and in its jubilant wake the possibility of a Democratic House and maybe even Senate where, like a scene out of The Godfather where Michael settles all family business, liberals exact revenge by impeaching not only of Trump but Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. As entertaining as that liberal porn may be…I don’t think it is going to happen.

According to my wave theory, there will be no blue wave. Not only will the Democrats not win the Senate, I don’t think they will win the House either, and if they do it will be by the skin of their teeth. Now…before you stick your head in the oven…to be very, very clear…I could certainly be wrong about this, God knows it wouldn’t be the first time. For starters, I have never used my wave theory to predict a mid-term before, and it could be I am interpreting the data entirely incorrectly, this is a distinct possibility. But with that said, ever since last June, when I wrote a piece for CounterPunch on the topic, along with a follow up posting on this blog in July, I have thought that this blue wave was a mirage.

As I stated in my CounterPunch piece, the big warning signs for me were the prominence and success of both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, both of which had narratives, sub-text and color scheme that spoke clearly of the failure of the opposition to Trump to succeed in toppling him.

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Other films, such as A Quiet Place, Hereditary and even A Star is Born, that have all resonated deeply within the culture this year, are also leading indicators of a Democratic failure come the mid-terms because of their narratives and sub-text. Believe it or not, A Star is Born is remarkably insightful sub-textually and that sub-text very clearly (once you crack the code of it) states that if not Trump, then at least Trumpism, is here to stay as a replacement for the old paradigm, as indicated by the song in the film “Maybe it’s time we let the old ways die”. (I hope to have a full analysis of A Star is Born done soon).

Just as importantly, there are lagging indicator films that are, just like Spielberg’s The Post in 2017, falling flat, which highlight what isn’t resonating in the collective unconscious. Films with similar narratives, like the “aggrieved and under-appreciated genius wife/power behind the throne” stories of The Wife and Colette, or the “police shooting/racism” films The Hate U Give, Monsters and Men and Blindspotting, have all fallen flat in the broader culture. Even the colossal failure of the cinematic celebration of multi-culturalism and female empowerment, A Wrinkle in Time, is telling us what is going on in our collective unconscious, and it isn’t good news.

Now…maybe I am dead wrong about all this…maybe I am misreading and misinterpreting the data, that is a distinct possibility. Maybe the Democrats win a huge majority in the House and even get one in the Senate…but neither of those things will lead to a return to “normal”…only an escalation of the clash for civilization that is currently taking place.

Even if Democrats win, the intensity of the political turmoil here in America will not recede but proceed at an even quicker pace. Two more years of impeachment talk and congressional hearings will only heighten the tensions that are already near a boil. If you thought Trump was awful these last two years, wait until he faces an existential threat to his presidency from a Democratically controlled House and possibly Senate.

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On the other hand, if, as I have been predicting since June, there is not blue wave, don’t expect tensions to lessen. If Democrats fail to gain the House, Trump will turn his obnoxiousness up to 11 and liberals and the media will ratchet up the crazy to unseen heights. And on top of that, if Mueller ends his investigation with no bombshells or smoking gun of “Russian collusion”, the liberal and Democratic meltdown will make Chernobyl look like a cookout.

In other words…no matter the outcome on November 6th, the conflagration that is American politics will only grow bigger, hotter and much more dangerous.

The reality is that there is no stopping the collapse of the institutions of western civilizations. Trust me, we have a very, very bumpy road ahead. That means more authoritarianism across the globe (Bolsonaro will win in Brazil) and more shocks to the system, like economic earthquakes, natural disasters and war.

The good news is that this current wave/cycle of collapse and destruction will not last forever. Eventually, after maybe a decade or so (or God help us a decade or two), this collapse and destruction wave/cycle will transform into a more optimistic wave/cycle of growth, stability, relative peace and prosperity. Remember, destruction is the first act of creation, and we will create, hopefully, a more just, localized, thoughtful and sustainable civilization in the crater where this one once stood.

As for the bad news…we are still in the destruction phase…and come November 7th there are going to be a lot of really pissed off Democrats, liberals and anti-Trumpers, who will still have no power in Washington with which to vent their rage. And if you thought things have been bad the last two years, what ‘til you get a load of what comes next because you ain’t seen nothing yet.


©2018