Thursday, May 15, 2014

5 TV Shows I Can't Stop Watching

We are living in a television Renaissance. Bold statement? Sure. But it's also true. The production quality of series like; The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and True Detective is incredible. With the inception of cable programming and services like Netflix, we are now witnessing the kind of deep characterization, intricate plot lines, and global cinematography that is rivalling, if not surpassing, their cinematic counterparts. The small screen also allows for character arcs (see: Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones, or Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife) and, my personal favourite, good sub-plots (two stories for the price of one!). ...And while it's hard to choose from such an abundance of riches, I narrowed it down to the five I look forward to the most...

Longmire - I love a good Western. So it didn't take long for me to be taken in by this murder-mystery series set in a fictional Wyoming county, watched over by a newly widowed, old-school sheriff (played superbly by Aussie actor, Robert Taylor) - and his not-always-merry band of deputies. You quickly feel like you're on ride-along's with this dysfunctional little group, and admire the way they watch out for one another. I was surprised by how quickly I felt invested in the characters. The long standing friendship between Sheriff Longmire and stoic local restaurant owner, Henry Standing Bear (played by the sublime Lou Diamond Phillips), is particularly inspiring. Throw in a list of impressive recurring characters and guest stars like, Gerald McRaney, A Martinez, Charles S. Dutton, and Peter Weller - and you've got yourself an engaging, contemporary Western. Stand-outs: Starbuck alert! Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) is a blast to watch as Deputy Victoria 'Vic' Moretti, a brash Philadelphia transplant with attitude to spare. Did I mention Lou Diamond Philips is in this?? ...And the view from Longmire's front porch is unforgettable.
(Longmire, Seasons 1 & 2 are on Netflix, and Season 3 premieres on A&E June 2nd)

Fargo - There are good movie-to-TV adaptations (M*A*S*H, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) - and not-so-good ones (Clueless, My Big Fat Greek Life). Fargo is a great one. Written by Ethan & Joel Coen (who wrote and directed the film), this is a well-crafted, layered tale of how quickly things can spiral out of control - when a very bad man ends up stranded in an unsuspecting little town.
 While I love the music and stark-but-beautiful landscapes, this story is all about the characters. Billy Bob Thornton (as the malevolent stranger, Lorne Malvo) steals every scene he's in, but the lovely Allison Tolman (as Molly, the deputy who starts to put all the pieces together), isn't far behind. Rounding out the cast are Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine, Bob Odenkirk, and Oliver Platt - worth watching for their North Dakota accents, alone. The theme of good vs. evil is an ancient one - but seldom has it been so much fun to watch. The malicious influence of Thornton's Malvoy on the weaker characters is terrible and riveting, while his predatory presence seems to infuse the more innocent and noble townspeople with a necessary (and urgent) strength. I can't wait to see what happens next. Stand-out: Thornton. His quiet malice (and bad haircut) are reminiscent of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, but he also has some of the funniest dialogue on the show. A career-high.
(Fargo, Season 1 is currently airing Tuesday nights on FX)

Stay tuned for my reviews of Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, and Penny Dreadful (plus, some honourable mentions)...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Interviews With People Who've Never Been In My Kitchen: Matt Hastings

There's busy...and then there's Matt Hastings-busy. During the course of his career, he's composed, written, directed and produced episodes of series which include: Drop Dead Diva, Warehouse 13, Eureka, Alphas, Reign, and most recently (my personal favourite), The Originals. Matt and his lovely wife will be new parents soon and he's currently hard-at-work on The Originals set in Georgia. Yet he still found time to answer some of my questions -- proof that there are still some gentlemen left in Hollywood... 

YJ: How did growing up with a father and uncle in this business help prepare you to break into the world of film and television, and what was the most memorable advice they gave you?

MH: I think being baptized in this business since birth has had an immeasurable positive effect on my trajectory. My father is not only talented, but incredibly wise. When Hollywood came calling in his late 20's he asked what kind of guarantee they'd be willing to offer him. Of course, there were no promises, only the illusion of grandeur. My Pop chose to stay put on his soap (As The World Turns), and there he stayed for over half a century. That show afforded him a terrific lifestyle and allowed his four children to never want for anything. He's an outstanding provider and a remarkable fella and he's had a great life. That example has been the cornerstone of my belief system. Find good people, be decent and professional, make a good show and stay with it until the wheels fall off. The other piece of advice he gave me was to stay BEHIND the camera, even when I flirted with following in his footsteps. He really believed in my ability as an actor, but he had consistently seen the creative power behind the writers and directors and appreciated that side of the equation (my Pop wrote on ATWT for many years under the name Irna Phillips). Because of his encouragement, I now find myself enjoying a 15+ year career as a writer/director and producer.

YJ: Your show [The Originals], American Horror Story: Coven, The Walking Dead and True Blood are all filmed and/or set in Georgia and Louisiana. Why does the deep south seem to be such a natural setting for the supernatural?

MH: I think thematically it works. There's a mystery in the Bayou. A sexiness. An unpredictable vibe that supports the supernatural, that claws back to our origins as a culture born out of a melting pot. There's also an enticing tax credit that draws Hollywood to the region.  

YJ: What do you feel is the allure of each of the Originals?

MH: I think globally, The Originals is about family. While all the individual characters have fascinating components, it's their interaction that is compelling. Although they are vampires, their struggles are totally relatable, IMHO.

YJ: You've worn a lot of hats: writer, director, composer, producer - what's been the most challenging and what's been the most fun?

MH: Each job presents a ton of challenges, so breaking into a new show can be an arduous task. It's a lot like being the new kid at school. Typically, I parachute into a show that is having a number of issues, from creative mis-management, to personality conflicts, to pure chaos. It's my job to help the show get back on track, oversee all the creative elements and get to the heart of what's important - telling a compelling story in a positive environment. So, I'm kind of like a creative fire fighter. I love my job.

YJ: Which part of your body of work thus far, will you be most proud to share with your son or daughter some day?

MH: I directed a Christmas episode of Eureka called DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE that incorporated 4 different styles of animation - Looney Tunes, Stop Motion, CG and Anime. It was a herculean effort to bring that to the screen and it's something I'm very proud of. I storyboarded every frame with great care and love. In the end, it's really magical and certainly something I will share with my kids WAY before DECOYS or BLOODSUCKERS. ;)

Thanks, Matt! (You can check out Matt's IMDb page here - it's pretty impressive). The Originals airs Tuesdays on The CW and returns January 14th.