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
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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.