Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Review of “The Affair” on Showtime

Cast of Showtime's The Affair
Cast of Showtime's The Affair
by Catherine Giordano

Showtime’s The Affair is a wonderful fable of love and marriage. It unfolds slowly, as life does. It hints at secrets, and then adds layer after layer as the secrets are revealed. Season One has just concluded its ten-episode run and is now available “On Demand”. It’s a great show to binge watch.  

The story is told in a unique way. A police investigation is taking place.The two main characters, Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson), each have their time with Detective Jeffries (Victor Williams) to recount their stories. Noah and Allison are the man and woman having the affair, and they are each married to someone else.

The first half hour of each hour-long episode is Noah’s recounting of events; the second half hour is Alison’s recounting of the same events. heir stories don’t always match up. For instance, who initiated the affair? Depends on who is telling the story. At first the two segments of the show covered the same events, but as the story expanded, each segment included events known only to the protagonist of the segment.

During the first few episodes, we don’t even know why the two are talking to the investigator. Finally we learn that he is conducting a murder investigation, but viewers are not told who was murdered until near the end of season. As I said, secrets are slowly revealed. 

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot. Part of the enjoyment of the show is just letting the show work its magic as we learn more and more about the characters and their lives. So I’ll just give a brief introduction to the main characters.  

Noah Solloway, is in his mid 40’s and has a comfortable life and a comfortable marriage. He is married to Helen (Maura Tierney), and they have four children ranging in age from about 5 years old to about 15 years old, and they all live in a comfortable Brooklyn brownstone. I hate to be trite, but he is ripe for a mid-life crisis. 

Noah is a college professor and has had his first novel published. The book was a critical, but not a financial success. As the story begins, Noah and his family have gone to Montauk where Helen’s father and mother live. Her father is a successful author of bestsellers. The family plans to stay in Montauk for the summer while Noah finishes his second book.  

Alison Lockhart is young woman—late twenties—who has lived her whole life in Montauk. She works as a waitress and has a lost waif-like quality. She is married to Cole Jackson, a local man, but they mostly lead separate lives. We discover that her young son has recently died, but we don’t learn how he died until nearly the end of the season. This is the crisis in her life that sets her into upheaval. 

As I said, the story slowly unfolds and as it unfolds, it slowly expands to include the stories of the families of the two lovers. Noah’s children and in-laws are brought into the story. Alison has a hippie mother named Athena and a grandmother in a nursing home.  She is also part of a sprawling family composed of her mother in-law, her brothers-in-law and their wives. The family owns a ranch n Montauk.  

The town of Montauk is almost like another character in the story. It’s natural beauty and its small-town life is woven into the story. 
Fiona-Apple CD
CLICK HERE for more music from Fiona Apple
Usually, I skip the opening credits of TV shows, but not when I watch “The Affair.”  A haunting song, "Container" written and performed by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, opens each show. Each week I puzzle anew over its meaning. I think the first part of the song is about how each of our actions has an ever-expanding affect on others, like the ripples that occur when a stone is thrown into the pond. Then it changes, and the second half of the song is about how each life is just a part of the whole, like a wave that crests, and then falls back into the ocean.

Keep those two themes in mind when you watch the show.
(Here is a video of the opening credits.)

The Affair has been nominated for "Best Drama" by the Golden Globes. Dominic West, who plays Noah, has the Golden Globes nomination for "Best Actor."  I nominate him for "Sexiest Man Alive."  I'm just not sue if I am nominating Dominic West or Noah Solloway.

Learn more about the series on the homepage for The Affair

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Newsroom #306 "What Kind of Day Has It Been"

The Newsroom Final Word
The final word for "The Newsroom"
by Catherine Giordano

"The Muddle"

At last, The Newsroom, is over. It ended, as it began, in a muddle .Actually, it literally ended as it began, with numerous flashbacks to the first episode and prequel segments showing how the team all got together.

I was so tired of this show. I know you were too. My reviews for Season 3 got far fewer views that my reviews for the first two seasons. Elsewhere on the web, I saw the term “hate-watching” used in reference to this show. It is an actual word that appears in The Urban Dictionary. It means to watch a show that you hate precisely because you hate it.  I think this series survived on hate-watchers, although I will admit, some people apparently liked the show. 

The unlikely plot of this final episode centered on the return of ACN to its former glory. The former owner, Leona, meets with the new owner, Pruitt, at Charlie’s funeral, and convinces him to endeavor to be the best news channel on TV instead of the most profitable channel or the channel with the highest ratings. (Yeah, that is going to happen—never in the real world, but The Newsroom was always about an idealized world.)  

Pruitt takes Leona’s advice and makes MacKenzee the president, replacing Charlie (who had a heart attack on the floor of the newsroom and died in the episode #305). (See my review and recap, Til Death Do Us Part).By the way, if you were sad about not seeing Charlie anymore, not to worry-- with the flashbacks, he was a dominant force on the final episode.  Also, it is revealed that Charlie was not enraged that everyone on his staff was deliberately disobeying his orders; his wife tells us that he secretly wanted everyone to disobey his orders. He was only putting on a show for Pruitt. So no one had to feel guilty that their insubordination got Charlie so angry that he had a heart attack.  

Neal is back. He just shows up in the Newsroom and takes over the ACN website. He tells the insufferable Bree to shut the whole thing down. The entire website is going to be revamped and restored to its former glory.  

Mackenzie is pregnant, having conceived the night before Will went to prison. Will is all aflutter with the news that he is going to be a father. Seriously, he was in dire need of a fainting couch.  

We are not given any finality about Jim and Maggie. Jim is Maggie’s boss, and he recommended her for a job as a field producer in DC. If she gets it, she and Jim will embark on a long distance relationship which will work out because Jim loves Maggie. Don is Sloan’s boss, and indications are that their affair will continue as well. None of them has any qualms about the boss dating his subordinate, and none of them seemed to have learned anything from the Jim-Hallie breakup about the dangers of love affairs with the people you work with even if it is only because you work in the same industry. 

The emotional high point of the episode is when Will, while at the funeral gathering at Charlie’s house wanders over to the garage and sits in with Charlie’s grandson’s band. Is Will a news anchor who plays country music on the side? No. Will tells us he is a musician who does news anchoring on the side. (Funny, this is the first we have heard of Will’s interest in playing and singing country music.)  

It’s a real nice song called “How I Got to Memphis. It’s about going home to Memphis. It’s a metaphor. It is supposed to symbolize how all the characters got to where they are from where they were at the beginning of the series. It is even explicitly stated that “Memphis” can be any place where you feel at home. 
Watch the video "How I Got to Memphis"

The problem with “The Newsroom” is that it never knew where its home was.  Was it serious drama about a TV newsroom giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the TV news industry? That is a good show. I would have love-watched it. Was it a situation comedy about the high-jinks and mishaps of the Newsroom cast of characters (like Night Court  was for the courtroom or Scrubs was for the hospital)? That is a good show. I would have love-watched that.  Was it just a platform to presenting ideas about politics? That is a good show. I would have love-watched that. 

The Newsroom, however tried to be all three of these shows at once.  As a consequence, it was a muddle.
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Friday, December 12, 2014

The Newsroom #305 "Oh Shenandoah" 12/07/14

by Catherine Giordano

Sam Waterson as Charlie Skinner
Sam Waterson as Charlie Skinner
“Til Death Do Us Part”

As HBO’s The Newsroom heads for that big newsroom in the sky, death is stalking the halls of ACN as the penultimate show, episode 5 of season 3, plays out. I don’t see any reason for the name of this episode except to remind us of the haunting words and music of the song by the same name. “Oh Shenandoah, I’m bound to leave you.” It’s a song of loss and pain.

Will McAvoy has lost 52 days of his life in his solitary jail cell, confined because he has refused to name the source who stole classified documents. Will is all alone except for a wise-ass wife-beater cellmate with very politically incorrect opinions. It turns out, the cellmate was just a hallucination of Will’s; a hallucination impersonating his father. It’s all the more spooky when the cellmate threatens Will with bodily harm, and Will stands up to him and points out he’s taller and stronger and not a woman who you can push around. This harkens back to a scene early in Season 1: Will’s father has died and Will doesn’t want to go to the funeral. So it’s a father-son reunion in that jail cell as Will deals with his dead father.

Will gets released from prison since the judge has become convinced that Will won't reveal the source. It turns out the source, Lily Hart, is dead. She committed suicide in a dramatic and public way on the steps of the capitol to prove something or other. I’m not really sure, but I think she died for the sake of the plot. Despite the source being dead neither Will nor Mac (and presumably Neal who is still in Venezuela) will give up her name. So noble! But also, they are off the hook for protecting the identity of a terrorist who might be a threat to America.

The leaking of secret documents in the fictional show plays off the actions of the real-life leaker of documents, Edward Snowden. Jim and Maggie are in a Russian airport trying to get on the plane that everyone believes will take Snowden to Cuba. They finagle their way on to the plane, only to learn that they are going to Cuba and Snowden is not. Maggie makes Jim change his seat because she can’t bear to sit with him, but the boring monotony of the long plane ride has a weird effect on her. She decides she loves him after all. They may well follow Will and Mac down the aisle to “until-death-do-us-part” land. The plotline is nicely tied up. 

Meanwhile back at the newsroom, Don has been ordered to find the identity of a co-ed who claims to have been raped by a BMOC. She can’t get justice, so she has started a website where women who have been raped can name their accusers. Pruitt wants Don to find the woman and convince her to go on air with the man she has accused for a bit of a slug fest. It will be great TV, and the woman wants to do it. She thinks she can bring down the rapist. Don tries to talk her out of it saying this will ruin her life. She will be slut-shamed and worse. The woman still wants to do it to bring attention to the issue of women being raped on college campuses. Don refuses and goes back to the newsroom and says he couldn’t find her. Another close brush with reality since this episode aired soon after the Rolling Stone magazine covered a similar story in real life.  

Sensationalism is rampart at ACN since the new owner, Pruitt, took over. He is turning the network into the on-air counterpart of a tabloid newspaper. There is even stalkerati. An obnoxious young man, Bree, is running the website in Nel's absence, and he has started a feature called ACNgage. It’s citizen journalism for celebrities. People can call in “sightings,” and they are reported, but never fact-checked. Sloan is very unhappy about this, so she uses the young man’s smug vanity to get him to agree to an interview. He’s on air live, and Sloan slaughters him. (Metaphorically, of course.) He looks like a fool.
Sloan and Don are both dead at ACN. (Metaphorically, of course.) Pruitt fires them. 

And then the episode ends with a real death. Charlie, mid-rant, has a heart attack right there in the newsroom. He dies.  

What next for the newsroom? What next for “The Newsroom.” It all wraps up on Sunday December 14th, the series finale.
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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Newsroom #304 11/30/14 “Contempt”

by Catherine Giordano

Will and Mckenzee get married
Will and MacKenzee Wedding Photo

The Best Laid Plans…

Nothing is working out according to plan for our friends in The Newsroom in episode 304, Contempt, which aired on November 30, 2014. I’ll examine the unraveling in this recap and review.

The biggest unraveling of well-laid plans was Will McAvoy’s joust with the FBI and the courts. Will is refusing to reveal the source of stolen classified documents.  He thought he would escape being jailed for contempt of court because he was a big star.  Apparently, he is not a big enough star. The episode ends with him in hand-cuffs being marched off to jail.

MacKenzee had to abandon her well-laid plans for the-wedding-of-the-year in response to the jailing of her fiancĂ©, Will. She had just hours to prepare for a wedding in City Hall before Will was taken to jail. The rushed wedding was done partly for love and partly because a wife cannot be forced to testify against her husband. 

The wedding part of the show was great fun as everyone in the newsroom rushed around getting flowers, music, and a cake. It might not have been the wedding of MacKenzee’s dreams, but gosh darn it, it was going to be stylish. MacKenzee looked every bit the beautiful bride in an ivory knee- length sheath. It was all so romantic, including the last passionate kiss MacKenzee bestowed upon Will as he stood in handcuffs.  Evidently, the rest of the honeymoon will have to wait.

There was a scurry of plans to find a “White Knight” buyer for the company so ACN could avoid a hostile takeover. Sloan found a billionaire who was interested in buying a media company and she and Don had a lunch meeting with her. They thought she was about to save them. It turns out, she took that lunch because she was using ACN as a ploy to negotiate a better deal with another media company. It worked out for her, but it left ACN in a awkward position. Charlie, the president of the news division spoke some angry imprudent words to Pruitt, the new buyer, thinking they had escaped his clutches. Everyone at ACN is a hot-head. 

At least. ACN will have a big scoop when they report on the stolen documents. No, that plan goes awry as well. It turns out that Pruit does not want the financial liability that the story will bring so they must quash the story. But they ship the files to someone at the AP so she can run the story. Will the story get out? Will ACN survive new ownership? Stay tuned.
The relationship between Jim and Hallie is not working out very well. It’s a case of strange bed-fellows because Hallie is now working for a rival news outlet. Haillie took advantage of information that she learned from Will for her own story, and then to top it off, she wrote a personal tell-all about their relationship. Their relationship ends in a hail of accusations and recriminations.  And also a bit of sorrow, because their commitment to their relationship was strong, but their commitment to their work was stronger. 

Sloan and Don’s attempt to keep their relationship secret from the HR manager failed also. It failed because Sloan had submitted the form reporting their relationship to HR weeks earlier, and the HR director finally got around to checking his inbox. Don is flabbergasted to learn that he has been working so hard to keep their relationship secret, and all the while, Sloan knew she had already reported it. But this is the very basis of Jim and Sloan’s relationship—head-games. (In the last episode, they played “gotcha” with each other as a way of testing the other’s commitment to their relationship.) Fortunately, the HR director likes games also. He was only pretending to be opposed to their relationship.   

Even Maggie’s new relationship with her ethics professor has collapsed. It seems her new suitor has realized that Maggie is still carrying the torch for Jim, and he doesn’t want to be second fiddle. I think this break-up is Maggie’s good fortune. Mr.Ethics was constantly blurting out things about Maggie to her co-workers that could hurt her career. For instance, Maggie turned down an exclusive story with a government source because it might have been borderline unethical to take it. She was trying to impress Mr.Ethics at the time.  

Another reason Maggie’s new relationship had to end--there are only two episodes left until the series finale, and plot arcs must be resolved. Jim has broken up with Hallie, and Maggie and Jim are now both free to be each other’s one-true-love again. 

What plans does the series have for viewers? Will is in jail and ACN may be “sold off for parts.”  But, at least, everyone’s love life seems to be going well.
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If you are a fan of the show, you might ant to order a copy of the DVD. Both season 1 and Season 2 are available.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Newsroom #303 11/23/14 "Main Justice"

by Catherine Giordano
Grace Gummer plays Hallie

Boisterous Buffoonery

A “bacchanal of boisterous buffoonery”—that pretty much describes every episode of HBO’s The Newsroom, although this was the first time a character on the show flung out that over-blown phrase.   

If the previous episode was all about ethics and honesty, this episode was all about ethical lapses and dishonesty.

The FBI has raided the newsroom to confiscate hard drives and who knows what else.  They are thwarted and the effort is aborted when Charlie has the crew turn the cameras on the newsroom and threatens to broadcast the raid live. It was a bluff, but the FBI backed down.  

All the bed-hopping that happens among the newsroom’s staff is about to have consequences. There is a new director of HR and he is coming down hard on producers having sexual relationships with the people they supervise. He’s suspicious of don and Sloan and they are lying through their teeth about their personal relationship.  

The Lansings are trying to save ACN from a hostile takeover by finding a friendly buyer.  They have a possible buyer, but the cure may be most than the disease. He wants to turn ACN into some hydra-headed network of mini networks catering to 100 different niches. At last the buyer is honest. The Lansings are trying to sell the station before the news of the FBI raid gets out. That kind of news would definitely hurt the sales price. 

Hallie has a new job. She’ll be working for an online news group with a pay-per-view policy. Are these payments bonuses or commissions? Will Hallie sell out her journalistic ethics in order to pander sensationalism?  It looks like she will? 

Neal’s source got in touch with MacKenzee. The source is a beautiful young Pakistani woman and she gives Mac an ultimatum—release the news about the CIA disinformation that caused 39 deaths or she will dump all of the 17,000 documents that she has onto the media.  Mac wants to handle the news responsibly, but will she cave? 

The FBI has found Neal.  He is in Venezuela—a country without an extradiction policy with the U.S. so much for standing up for principles.  McAvoy has heroically tried to protect Neal.  He got Neal to tell him the name of the source so the FBI would focus on him instead of on Neal. The plan worked out great--to a point.  McAvoy thought that the FBI would not dare to arrest at TV news anchor star.  But at the end of the episode, he is served with a subpoena. McAvoy's boisterousness is definitely subdued as he wonders if he is as big a star as he thought he was.

There was one segment of the show that didn't seem to fit.  The government climate scientist that Peggy met the airplane. McAvoy interviews him on air apparently without a pre-interview. The government guy announces the end of the world due to climate change. No buffoonery; only bleakness. His message: We are doomed and it is too late to save us. Newsroom often weaves true facts into its stories. Is this one of those times?  Id the future of the planet as bleak as this guy presents it? The show gives us no clue. McAvoy just shrugs. Maybe there will be a follow-up in the three remaining episodes.

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If you are a fan of the show, you might ant to order a copy of the DVD. Both season 1 and Season 2 are available.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Real Time with Bill Maher #337, 11/21/14 "Tis the Season to be Stupid"

Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen
by Catherine Giordano
Tis the season, the season for stupidity and jollity on Real Time with Bill Maher, #337, which aired on November 21, 2014 on HBO.  Maher, the avowed atheist, even came out in favor of Christmas.
Obama and Immigration
In the monologue, Maher got right to the issue of the day, Obama and immigration.  “If you like your gardener, you can keep your gardener.” Maher said, Republicans are in a snit about it—it really is a Mexican stand-off.”

Michelle Bachman said the illegal immigrants will be voting. Maher said, “There is no evidence of illegals voting. Maybe they should because voting is another job that Americans won’t do.” He added that if Obama is (acting like) a king, the Boehner must be a knight—“Sir Rhosis of Liver. (Ha Ha. Boehner is widely known for liking his drink. He fact he is something of a lush.) 

During the panel discussion, Maher said that Obama just insured Hillary Clinton’s election.  Chris Mathews (host of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Mathews and author of several books including his most recent book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked) agreed. “You can’t spot the other team 15% and expect to win.”
During the panel discussion, Maher said that Obama just insured Hillary Clinton’s election.  I say, “Don’t be so sure.” 

Roland Martin
Roland Martin
Roland Martin, a journalist, host of TV One News and author of Speak Brother: A Black Man’s View of America pointed out that a lot of Latino’s are not registered. I say, “Where were they in the mid-term elections?” Even the ones who were registered did not vote. And while some Latinos are crying tears of joy because they won’t have to worry about their families being deported, others are complaining Obama did not do enough.  

 Martin said the Boehner made a stupid mistake when he refused to bring the bi-partisan Senate Immigration bill to the floor. The votes were there to pass it, but Boehner did not want to pass it with Democratic votes plus a few Republican votes.  (He cited the Hastert rule that legislation must be able to pass with a majority of the votes coming from the majority-party. Denny Hastert said he never had such a rule.) If they had passed it, Republicans would have looked good. Boehner refused to bring it up for a vote—stupid.
Mathews said, “Obama did the nice stuff. Now they [Republicans] could do the hard stuff --law enforcement and illegal hiring.”(He meant that the anti-immigrant base would never go for the nice part but would vote for the harsh part.)
Maher said, “When has America ever been welcoming to immigrants. Certainly not to the Irish, the Italians …”

Christia Freeland, journalist, politician, and author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else is Canadian.  She said, “America’s strength is being able to absorb immigrants. Canada’s too. Europe can’t do it.  That is why Europe is fading.”
John Cleese
John Cleese

John Cleese
The interview was with John Cleese, an actor, comedian, film producer, Monty Python cast-member, and author of several books. His latest book is Say Anyway…

Maher was fawning over him as he did last week with Rand Paul. Only this time, the fawning was totally justified.  Maher said, “I swoon over you.”  Me too.

Maher said, “You lampoon the establishment because you are one of them.” (Cleese is a lawyer—I did not know that.) “Your book is so great. It explains your work.”  And, “Life of Brian” is the best movie ever made.”

Cleese said that he is a member of The Church of England.  He called it “The Conservative Party of Prayer.”
Cleese said, “I’m against stupidity, but the world wouldn’t work without it. Comedy is about people being stupid and screwing things up. Almost nobody has any idea of what they are talking about.”

Bill Cosby
The panel discussed the allegations of rape made by 16 women (so far) against Bill Cosby. Maher joked about it in the monolog.  “Vegas cancelled him.  How sleazy do you have to be to get cancelled by Vegas? Now black teenagers can tell Cosby, ‘Pull up your pants.’”

Maher said, “Celebrities are targets, but when this many women come forward with no financial incentive you have to think there might be something to it.”

Seth Rogen, an actor and comedian who starred in The Neighbors, said, “It was well-known in the community I was in.” Essentially he was saying people who were in a position to know, knew." (Read more about Seth Rogen and his new movie, The Interview at The Bumbler, The Dictator, and the Senator.)
Of course, the question is why didn’t the women say something at the time of the rape.

Christia Freeland
Christia Freeland
Freeland, the only woman on the panel, had to explain it to the men.  “There has been a cultural shift. At the time, it wasn’t OK to say anything. I hope this is a turning point. “What people don’t understand is that women blame themselves, they fell embarrassed, they are afraid of hurting their career and that no one would believe them.  Maher talked about how attitudes had changed. It used to be OK for Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners sketches to threaten to punch his wife. (Likewise, it used to be OK for powerful men to rape women. That is just how it was and women could be ruined if they spoke about it publically.) 

Martin said, “We will never have finality. There won’t be a trial because the statute of limitations has run out and lawyers always advise their clients not to speak about it.”

Jonathan Gruber
Stupidity is in the news because of Jonathan Gruber. He is a consultant who worked on the Affordable Care Act.  Gruber said that the behind the scenes, the drafter of the act were saying that the American people are stupid.   

Maher said, “You know who else has called the American people stupid? Me” He showed clips of him saying it. He said, “42% of Americans don’t even know there are three branches of government and even more can’t even name one.” “They believe the Noah’s ark story is true, “You have to slip the pill in the ham to get the dog to swallow it.”  

I agree Americans are stupid, not because they are unintelligent and incapable of understanding, but because they prefer to be ignorant and to act on emotion and not reason. Why did they vote to put the party that caused an economic collapse that was only narrowly averted by Obama’s leadership back in power? Why do they vote by huge margins for an increase in the minimum wage and then, in the same election, vote for the people who have promised to block a minimum wage increase? Why do the ones who don’t vote say “It doesn’t matter who gets elected”? Why did Latino’s sit out the mid-term elections and let the people who want to deport them take office instead of the people who would protect them? Why do people say that because Democrats only gave them half a loaf, they’ll vote for the ones who will not only give them none, but take away the crumbs they already have? Why?  Why?  Why?

Rogen was right when he compared America to the movie Dumb and Dumber.
Chris Matthews
Chris Matthews

Politically incorrect
Maher and Cleese discussed “political correctness” and how stupid it is.  Cleese said he could do jokes about Swedes, and the French, and the Germans, but if he did a joke about Mexicans, everyone gasped.   

Maher said that it was like not doing jokes about Islam. “Islam is a religion of peace. A piece of you over there, another piece of you over here.” 

Cleese said that Jesus did not expect his words to be taken absolutely literally. He was too smart for that.    

Mid-show comedy segment.
Whenever Maher goes on hiatus (the show will be back in January), he gives a series of predictions for newspaper headlines for the period he will be off the air. They are ridiculous and funny. For example: 

  • Amazon to Offer Baby Delivery
  • Pope Francis OK with Just About Everything
  • San Francisco Bans Straight Marriage
  • U.S Tour of Liberian Monkeys Sees Low Ticket Sales
  • Bruce Jenner to Plastic Surgeon: Give me Renee Zellweger’s Old Face

Read more about headline predictions and see the video clip at Bill Maher #337 Headline Predictions Winter 2014 ( I do some predictions of my own and I invite you to do some of your own.)

New Rules: “Present Tense”
In New Rules, Maher said Christmas needs saving. He likes Christmas. “As a fable, it is cute.”  Also, “How can you not like eggnog? It’s like getting wasted on ice cream.” 

One problem with the holidays is that they start in October. There should just be one holiday: Thankshallowismas.  “The whole family gets together in costume and gives thanks for a big meal of turkey and candy and then gathers around a tree decorated with toilet paper to exchange presents and tell ghost carols.”

Another problem is that the stress of families getting together is worse than ever. “Thanks to the internet and Fox News, half your family is insane and impossible to talk to.” Then Maher gave a list of things it was OK and not OK to talk about.

Finally, there is the stress of gift-giving. “You are spending money you don’t have to buy stuff for people that they don’t want. The parking. The shopping. The returning. Sometimes I wonder how my assistant does it. “

Maher said despite being an atheist he likes the holiday season. (Me too.) It’s fun. Then Maher ended the show with an orchestral version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as snowflakes floated down on him and the panel.

(I bet they liked the snowflakes part in Buffalo, the ones who still had power.)

Read more about this segment and see the video clip. Bill Maher Wishes you a Merry Thankshallowismas.
Merry Whatever
Enjoy the holidays and don’t do anything stupid. Unless it is really, really fun.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Newsroom #302 “Run” Where's the Truth

Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing
Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing
Where's the Truth

by Catherine Giordano

The theme for episode 2 of Season 3, titled “Run” of The Newsroom is truth, lying liars, and ethics. Very lofty! The problem with a theme on The Newsroom is the hit the viewer over the head with it.  A little subtlety would make the show more enjoyable. 

The Lansings
Where to begin?  Reese Lansing, president of ACN News and son of founder Leona Lansing (played by Jane Fonda) are the owners of the ACN Network which is just one piece of their media empire. The evil twins, children from Leona’s husband’s second marriage, will inherit 45% of CAN from their father’s estate on their 25th birthday which is just about a week away.  They are planning to sell their shares to another company which will then execute a hostile takeover. Leona offers to beat the competitor’s offer. No the truth will come out. Are the twins selling their shares for the money as they claim or are they doing it to punish their father’s first family? There’s also another truth involved. Leona doesn’t actually have the money. 

Maggie, a young producer for ACN is one her way back to Boston.  She is on a train. She overhears a government official discussing the EPA.  Realizing this will be a great scoop, Maggie slides down in her chair, out of the official’s sight and records the conversation.  When he is finished with the call, Maggie tells him that she has recorded it and asks for a comment.  He begs her not to use it even though she is legally able to do so. The official claims no fair because she hid herself.  Maggie decides that it would not be ethical to use the story. (What!  He could have seen her if he had just looked a little more carefully.)  The man offers to trade her story in place of the embarrassing one she has just recorded. She says no because that would be blackmail.  (What! That kind of horse-trading is done constantly between journalists and news reporters.) The man then gives her an advance copy of a report anyway. So Maggie will have a scoop after all.  See how things always work out when you play nice. 
Neal Sampat as played by Dev Patel
Neal Sampat as played by Dev Patel
Back in the newsroom things are not working out so well.  Neal, a reporter,  (played by Dev Patel) has obtained stolen documents from a source.  He will not reveal his source.  The news value of these documents is tremendous.  He has evidence of how a USA disinformation campaign resulted in the deaths of 38 innocent people. Neal stands firm to his journalist ethics and says he will go to prison if he has to because he will never reveal the source. 

Neal will be in the clear if ACN doesn’t air the story because the FBI will never know that he has the documents. But, if the FBI finds out, he could be charged with treason.    

There is a big ethics argument in the newsroom.  MacKenzee, the executive producer, says they must air the story. It is their moral duty to air the story.  Will, the anchor and finance of MacKenzee is more interested in protecting Neal.  Rebecca Halliday (played by Marcia Gay Hardin) is the lawyer for CAN.  She warns them of the dire consequences if the FBI learns about that CAN has the documents. 

Neal is all about ethics and he sneaks out of the room and calls the FBI and tells them about the documents.  Within the hour, an army of FBI agents has swarmed into the newsroom. confiscating the hard drives on all the computers. Will had previously told Neal that he needed to go into hiding. Neal said he wouldn’t run. Now, Neal forgets his high and mighty ethics and runs.  

Another ethical dilemma.  Hallie (played by Grace Gummer) is new to the staff of the newsroom. Jim, who she is “sleeping” with, is her boss.  Hallie sent out an inflammatory tweet on Will’s account which results in a mega-ton of bad publicity for ACN.  Hallie is ethical enough to admit that she did it.  She also tells the truth and says she did it for the “retweets.”  Haillee has to be fired.  Jim says, as her boss, it is his duty to be the one to fire her.  Charlie, the general manager, spares Jim this painful task and fires Hallie himself.  

Don and Sloan
And finally, a silly little romantic subplot.  Don, a producer and Sloan (the station’s money-honey”) have been having an affair.  Or something.  The way they try to figure out what it is they are having is to take turns lying to each other only so they can then pounce saying, “It was a test, and you failed the test.”  In the end, they admit that they have serious feelings for each other and decide they have to bring their affair into the open. 

Even the occasion for their story-telling is a lie. Don and Sloan are at a buffet restaurant and Sloan does not want to be seen in public going off her diet.  She makes Don pile up his plate and then surreptitiously stuffs the food into her own mouth.   

Liar! Liar!
Liar. Liar.  All kinds of lies.  All kinds of reasons for the lies.  Bam!  That’s the sound of my brain being crushed by the heavy-handed theme.
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The Newsroom DVD
Order the Newsroom DVD
If you are a fan of the show, you might ant to order a copy of the DVD. Both season 1 and Season 2 are available.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Real Time with Bill Maher #336 11/14/14 "Revelations"

by Catherine Giordano
Obama is in Ninja mode.

It was a night of revelations on Real Time with Bill Maher, episode 336, which aired on 11/14/14 on HBO. I’ll reveal what I heard and learned from Bill Maher and his guests in this recap and review.

Obama as ninja
Maher began his opening monolog by revealing that “Obama went all ninja on them” and “He was like Pacino at the end of Scarface. He compared Obama to the idealist President Bartlett on the defunct TV series The West Wing. (I always wished we could have a real-life president like President Bartlett.  

Here is what Obama did that earned Maher’s (and my) respect.  
  • He went to China and got a carbon-capping deal that can help reduce global warming.
  • He came out strongly for net neutrality.
  • Obama announced that he is going to use executive action on immigration. 
Obama will allow illegal immigrants who have close relatives who are citizens—this usually means the parents of children who are citizens because they were born here—to obtain green cards and will not deport them. This is a family-values policy because it keeps families together.
Republicans are going ballistic at the mere thought of this action. They are threatening to shut down the government and to stat impeachment proceedings in retaliation. Ninja Obama is fearless. He has nothing to lose and he has finally realized that Republicans will never cooperate with him on anything.  It’s a shame that it took the loss of majority control in the Senate for him to let his inner ninja out.

Maher also joked about “fake outrage.” The President was chewing gum.  And walking at the same time. Maher quipped, “It’s a blatant attempt to show up Bush.”
Government Bullies Rand Paul
The interview with Rand Paul
Maher began the interview with Rand Paul by showing the cover of the Time magazine that featured Paul with the headline “The most Interesting Man in the World”. The introduction set the tone for the whole interview. Maher said he was open to voting for Paul if he ran for president.  (Maher began his political career as a libertarian.  He has since matured into a liberal, but he still sometimes has a weakness for libertarians.)

Rand acquitted himself well in the interview.  He said, “It’s a low bar” about his title as “most interesting man in the world.” 
Rand revealed his progressive side to us. He came out in favor of restoring voting rights to felons. There are 200 million people who can’t vote because they are felons.  He is also in favor of prison reform.  H objects to prisons as a for-profit business.  He also objects to the expense of keeping people in prison when it does not add to the public safety.

If Maher was going for a gotcha moment with a question on climate change, he didn’t get it.  Rand said he favored a “balanced solution.”  He said we should pursue renewable energy, but not shut down one source of energy [coal]. Darn. Why aren’t Democrats saying that? Of course, we can’t shut down the coal industry overnight; it has to be phased out while coal-miners are trained for new jobs in renewable energy.  I can’t imagine there are many coal miners who wouldn’t jump at the chance to earn a comparable wage without having to do the dirty and dangerous job of coal mining.

Rand is for ending the drug war and ending the shooting war in Iraq and the Mideast. He pointed out that every time we topple a secular dictator, things get worse.  

If he keeps talking like this, I might be open to voting for him. However, I’m hoping the Democratic candidate will take the same stands on these issues because Paul is wrong about a lot of other things. Also with common sense rational views like this, I doubt he can win the Republican nomination.   But you gotta give Paul credit--he tailored his message to his audience.  Let’s see what he says when he is talking to Republicans in the primary debates.
The mid-term elections
Maher bemoaned the fact that Obama waited until after the elections to reveal the good news.  If he had done if before the elections, he might have motivated some more people to vote.

New Gernation American Conservatives Margaret Hoover
Panelist Margaret Hoover, a Republican political commentator and author of American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party was magnanimous. She said “The map was just not in your favor this year” because the majority of the elections were in red states. 

Love Undetectable Andrew Sullivan
Panelist Andrew Sullivan is Blogger- in-Chief at The Dish and author of six books.  (His most recent book is Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival.) He said, “Show that you believe in something. No one wants to vote for the guy mumbling and shuffling away.”

Dirty Wars Jeremy Scahill

Panelist Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist and author of two books. (Blackwater and his new book Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, said, “It is like an acting troop that comes out for the encore, but they never did the show.”
Hoover said that the Republicans are “quietly back-channeling” that they are will to move on this.  Maher retorted with disbelief, “VERY quietly.”  Sullivan was also skeptical. He said, “When have they ever won out over the crazies.”

The mid-East and ISIS
Maher said it would take 30,000 ground troops to defeat ISIS. Scahill said this war was a continuation of the war against Bushes troops and that the Bathists had joined a coalition with the Muslim radicals. Sullivan said we need a president to say “This is not our problem.” Maher agreed that we should just let them fight it out among themselves.  

Maher said that there are power struggles in the Vatican as Pope Frank (as Maher calls Pope Francis) tries to move the church into the new age.  He canned Cardinal Raymond Burke, a very conservative cardinal. (Actually, you can't fire a cardinal. The Pope just transferred him to some minor post.)

Pope Frank has to serve in the unusual circum stance of having another living Pope, the retired Pope Benedict. Maher said Pope Benedict was the Dick Cheney of the Catholic Church. Maher then launched into the mid-show comedy segment where he showed a mock war-of-words on twitter between the two popes. 

The conversation about religion continued when the mid-show guest, Martin Short—comedian, actor, and author-- joined the panel. Maher said the he and Short and Sullivan were all raised Catholic and the only one stuck with it.  “The gay one! “(Sullivan.)

Sullivan said, “We can leave room for doubt.  If you have never doubted, you have never really believed.”

Scahill said Pope Frank is trying to push for economic change.  Hoover said he is trying to go back to “the simplicity of Christ.”  Maher pointed out that after he does these things, he comes out for exorcism. “He’s a good politician, throwing a little something to the base.”

Maher brought up the Mormon religion. The Mormon Church has been trying to modernize by being honest about the history of the church.  They are admitting that Joseph Smith, who founded the religion in the 1930’s had 30 to 40 wives, one of whom was a 14 year-old girl and others who were already married. Maher called it “a sex-cult.”  Maher said, “They can’t hide the facts because this history is so recent.”    

Sullivan then tried to claim that the stories in the Bible wee history true.  There was a virgin birth and Christ did come back from the dead—it can’t be empirically disproved.  Maher said that none of the Bible stories about Christ were written until 40 years after his death.  “It is like no one noticed the Beatles until 2010.” 

Martin tried to end the discussion by saying that the truth of religion is not important: “Who cares if it gives you strength.”   

Maher had one more point to make.  He said that the Mormons have Revelators who get messages from God and that even the Mormon missionaries will no longer go to Syria and Iraq. 
Martin Short I Must Say

Martin Short
The mid-show guest was Martin Short, an actor, comedian, and author of several books. Maher discussed Martin Short’s new book I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend.  Maher praised Short for his beautifully written memoir and for his honesty in talking about the losses in his life the death of his brother, his parents, and his wife of 36 years. In the book Short reveals a lot of personal details about his life and career including the fact that Gilda Radner was his first real love.

New Rules: The Importance of Voting
Maher was on fire about people not voting. He started with the little stickers that say “I voted” that are given to people after they vote. Why should people get a sticker just for doing what they are supposed to do? It is like getting a sticker for flushing the toilet.  Instead, there should be stickers for non-voters that say “I couldn’t be bothered.”

He castigated people like comedian Russell Brand who made a statement saying don’t vote because the system is broken. (It got broken because people didn’t vote.)  Politicians are all the same? Tell that to the 700,000 people in Florida who would have gotten health insurance if the Democrat had been elected governor. Obama didn’t deliver? Maybe you missed it because it wasn’t on TMZ.
President Mitt McCain
President Mitt McCain
Maher asked us to imagine life if we had elected President Mitt McCain instead of Obama. (He morphed pictures of the two into one. It was very funny.)  Maher revealed what would have happened.

  • There was no stimulus and the auto industry was allowed to die.  We are in the sixth year of Great Depression II.
  • Paula Dean and Joe the Plumber is on the Supreme Court.
  • The Attorney General is Dick Cheney’s head.
  • The nearest abortion clinic is in London.
  • There is no renewable energy but one trillion dollars was spent on an electrified fence on the Mexican border to keep out the one Mexican who still wants to get it.
  • Homeland Security chairman Ted Cruz deported all 12 million Mexicans and now we have no fruit.
“No fruit, no jobs, your girl friend is having a baby you don’t want, no health insurance and your tap water is on fire!  But you didn’t dirty your hands in the gutter of politics.” I think the bit should have ended with this line. 

The last line seemed a little weak to me. Maher ended with, “If your hands are not dirty, it is not because you are pure. It is because you are not helping.” The writers should have battered that one around a little more. 

Yu cn read more about this and see the video clip at Bill Maher: President Mitt McCain
Martin Short
Bill Maher’s Guests: November 14, 2014
Rand Paul:  Senator (R, KY), and author (with Ron Paul) of Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Fed  

Martin Short:  Actor, comedian, and author of several books. His most recent book is I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend

 Andrew Sullivan: Blogger-in-Chief at The Dish, blog and author of six books.  His most recent book is Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival

Jeremy Scahill: Journalist and author of two books.  His most recent book is Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield