Category Archives: Television

My Year End Wrap Up 2018

I always prepare for my year-end wrap up by reading what I posted at the end of the previous year. 2017 was “a tough year.” 2018’s response? “Hold my beer.” School shootings, children separated from their families and dying in detention, horrific wildfires, daily awfulness from the Trump administration, and now a government shutdown with no end in sight. I’m more grateful than ever for the things that entertain me and keep my spirits up. Here’s my best of 2018.

Best Books

My 2018 reading list began with the final five books in my Dorothy Dunnett marathon. I read a lot of Jack Reacher novels and two of Robin Hobb’s fantasy trilogies. I finished the year with a number of classics, including novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot. I especially enjoyed The Physician by Noah Gordon. The nonfiction book that had the biggest impact on me was Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven.

Best Movies/DVDs

I only saw five movies in the cinema, and three of them were in January. I most enjoyed Paddington 2 and Love, Simon.

I learned a good strategy for the library waiting list for new DVDs, so I’ve seen a lot more recent releases than average. 2018 movies I liked: Lean on Pete, The House of Tomorrow, Game Night, Alpha, Ideal Home, Ant-Man and Wasp, Blindspotting, and Crazy Rich Asians.  The biggest disappointments were Avengers: Infinity War, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Hot Summer Nights. Older films that stuck with me after watching include War on Everyone (2016), and The Guard (2011). The weirdest film I watched was Mænd & høns (Men & Chickens) (2015).

Permission wasn’t a great film, but there was this:

Francois Arnaud, Rebecca Hall, and pancakes in Permission

François Arnaud, Rebecca Hall, and pancakes in Permission

Best Television

Most of my television viewing was with DVD sets from library, continuing my trend of watching less live TV. I binge-watched Prison Break, and I finally saw the first season of Stranger Things. I really enjoyed The Heart Guy (called Doctor Doctor in Australia), Shetland (Scotland), Montalbano (Sicily), Anne with an E (Canada), and The Brokenwood Mysteries (New Zealand). Bodyguard kept me on the edge of my seat. The Last Post was worth watching for Jessie Buckley and Tom Glynn-Carney. I’m finishing out the year with Yellowstone, Gotham, and The Orville.

I’ll miss François Arnaud now that Midnight, Texas is cancelled, but he deserves a better series. Code Black deserved to continue, and I miss it a lot.

Best Concerts

This year I made a real effort to get out to more live events. Living in San Francisco is expensive, but there are lots of free things, and Goldstar for discount tickets has been very useful.

I had a great time seeing Ed Sheeran at AT&T Park, and I also enjoyed concerts by Aaron Tveit, Ramin Karimloo, and Ola Bilińska.

It doesn’t count as a concert, but I did go to Stars on Ice with Olympic skaters and favorite songs from Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman.

Best Theatre

Any live theatre is the best! I saw the musicals In the Heights, Into the Woods, A Walk on The Moon, Miss Saigon, and The Boy From Oz. My one play was We Swim, We, Talk, We Go To War.  I also enjoyed the Black Arts Festival at ACT’s The Strand.

As for theatres themselves, I went for my first time to the Throckmorton, the Herbst, Marines’ Memorial Theatre, the Orpheum, The Rueff, Potrero Stage, and the Gateway Theatre.

Best Music

I added a lot more theatre cast albums to my playlist, including Spongebob Squarepants, Mean Girls, Come From Away, and Hamilton. I love Eric & Happie’s Hamavdil, Michael Lee Brown’s EP, and Appleseed’s 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches 3 CD set.

Best Tweets

Let’s face it, Twitter is no longer as fun as it used to be. I deleted all but one of my accounts, and I seriously considered leaving the platform altogether. I’m still hanging on, because it’s addictive getting the almost-as-it-happens news.

My most popular tweet of 2018 was this year’s #DuvetKnowItsChristmas photo.

Best YouTube

I spent a lot less time on YouTube in 2018. I mostly watched Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah.

Biggest Time Sucker Upper

I’m still spending too much time reading daily news briefs from The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. I enjoy the daily trivia from Now You Know. My favorite newsletter is The Levin Report from Vanity Fair.

My Entertainer of the Year

I didn’t obsess over any one actor, which is probably for the best. Honorable mentions go to Tom Glynn-Carney, Rodger Corser, Jessie Buckley, Richard Madden, George MacKay, Jack Lowden, Ben McKenzie, Charlie Plummer, Paul Rudd, François Arnaud, Adam Rippon, and Wentworth Miller.

This year’s Entertainer of the Year is Paddington Bear, because he’s kind to everybody. We all need more kindness, and that’s my wish for 2019.

Paddington 2

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The Kids Are Alright: Peggy’s Day Out

S01E4

William (Andy Walken) reading science fiction

The Secret of Quaytar by J. Eldon Gutierrez with William (Andy Walken) and Frank (Sawyer Barth)

William (Andy Walken) reads The Secret of Quaytar by J. Eldon Gutierrez to Frank (Sawyer Barth)

In the fourth episode of The Kids Are Alright, Eddie and his no-longer-secret girlfriend Wendi take center stage, as they cope with the fallout of a broken bottle of Detroit’s finest cold duck. Timmy gets roped into Pat’s odd idea of fun, and in a parallel story, mom Peggy tests Wendi’s loyalty with a trip to a fancy beauty salon. William has a captive audience reading his latest sci fi to Frank. All the boys (and dad Mike) had good moments in the episode, and even baby Andy gets a great reaction shot.

Best seventies reference: dad Mike turns on the TV during a report about the Watergate hearings. I well remember how much daytime television was preempted for those endless hearings. As a kid I couldn’t make understand any of it, so mostly I just resented not being able to watch regular TV. Fortunately a neighbor introduced me to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys that summer.

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The Kids Are Alright

I turned nine in 1972. The early seventies were a traumatic time for my family, so I’ve never been particularly nostalgic about those years. The fashions, decor, and hairstyles were mostly awful. Brown, orange, and avocado are still my least favorite colors. With some trepidation, I checked out the pilot to new ABC sitcom The Kids Are Alright. I’m happy to say, I really love this show and encourage everyone to check it out.

The Kids Are Alright is a 1965 song by The Who, as well as the 1979 documentary that followed. Set in the summer of 1972, the sitcom is about a working class Irish-Catholic family with 8 boys. Show creator Tim Doyle narrates, and the series is centered on middle boy Timmy Cleary (Jack Gore), a redhead with dreams of stardom. All the boys are distinct enough that, after only three episodes, I have a grasp of their personalities.

The oldest son is Lawrence (Sam Straley), a long-haired liberal soon-to-be ex-seminarian. Eddie (Caleb Foote) gets no respect at the second oldest, and he’s usually fighting Frank (Sawyer Barth), an eavesdropping tattletale. Joey (Christopher Paul Richards) is precocious, cunning, and probably amoral; an old soul in an adolescent body with raging hormones. Sweet, smart William (Andy Walken) is a bookworm and the kid I relate to the most. Little Pat (Santino Barnard), in glasses, is timid with a questionable grasp on reality. Baby Andy (Sawyer and Jax Laucius)…well, hopefully we’ll be with the Cleary family long enough for him to walk and talk.

Mary McCormack plays the mom to perfection. Peggy Cleary is tough, acerbic, and an expert at economizing. Dad Mike (Michael Cudlitz) works for a defense contractor and literally brings home the bacon; he’s in charge of the grocery shopping. He wants better things for his boys, even if that doesn’t include fresh vegetables.

The seventies references are fun for us older viewers. These include The Partridge Family, Sonny & Cher, Bob Hope TV specials, the Nixon administration, grape and lettuce boycotts, film developing, and Jiffy Pop. I won’t mind if the heavier stuff from that summer is left out, like the Munich Olympics massacre. So far, the older boys aren’t fretting about the draft versus college, and that’s fine with me.

William is usually reading a book, and he’s clearly a fan of science fiction. I enjoy checking out the titles.

Dune by Frank Herbert

High Vacuum by Charles Eric Maine

Anybody’s guess!

Are there enough people who remember the seventies to keep this show on the air? I have a friend in his 30s who says, “It’s SO GOOD.” I guess you don’t have to understand all the references. Besides, we have Google now. ABC has ordered more episodes, according to Tim Doyle on Twitter, so that’s encouraging. Hopefully The Kids Are Alright will be around long enough for the Bicentennial, dittos pants, satin jackets, clackers, pop rocks, pet rocks, Roots, A Chorus Line, and Star Wars. Oh, geez, even disco.

You can watch the first three episodes streaming online, and new episodes air on Tuesday nights at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.

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Best Tweets: March 2018

March started out strong, with lots of great tweets. Then I began a huge project for my San Diego Junior Theatre reunion this summer, and I mostly disappeared from twitter. It was a nice break from negativity and bad news.

A few of these are screen captures instead of links, to make them easier to read. Sometimes I don’t see tweets until they’ve been retweeted by others, so the first of these are dated the end of February.

ttps://twitter.com/RobertMaguire_/status/969286630833098752

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My Year End Wrap Up 2017

Normally I approach my Year End Wrap Up with enthusiasm, but 2017 has been a very tough year. Most mornings I wake up with a sense of dread, almost afraid to open up the laptop to see what real-world horrors will dominate my morning news feed. The Stuff That Entertains Me is now more likely to be The Stuff That Keeps Me From Total Despair. Until recently, I used to ignore the news as much as possible; now I probably give it too much of my attention. I’m grateful that I can still turn to books, movies, TV and music to raise my spirits.

I began 2017 watching foreign soaps and making Chad Lowe collages. The year has ended with more reading, less television, and a bunch of new actors on my watch list. I started blogging again, although not as regularly as I’d hoped. There have been plenty of entertainment surprises along the way.

Best Books

The year started out slow, but then I finally got reading glasses! The two best non-fiction books I read this year were The Lost City of The Monkey God by Douglas Preston and Caesar’s Last Breath by Sam Kean. My summer LGBT reading project was fun, and the books from that post that have stayed with me the longest are Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin and Spy Stuff by Matthew J. Metzger. The best guilty pleasures this year were the Midnight Texas trilogy by Charlaine Harris and The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan. My ambitious Dorothy Dunnett project— reading all 14 Lymond Chronicle/House of Niccolo books—has been a great escape for the last three months. I’m finally in the homestretch! (Whew.)

Best Movies

I had a good year for seeing movies in the cinema. I saw more than usual and there weren’t any duds. Some of them may have been less spectacular than I hoped, but nothing was truly disappointing. The loudest was Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX; I enjoyed the performances from the young cast but the scale of the evacuation seemed anemic. Their Finest was a lovely film and a good companion to Dunkirk. In the superhero category, I enjoyed Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok pretty much equally. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was less memorable, but I enjoyed Baby Groot and the music. I went into Baby Driver thinking, I don’t really care about car chases; I came out thinking, more car chases, please! Beauty and The Beast and The Greatest Showman were visually rich and very entertaining.  Older movies included Summer Magic at the Walt Disney Family Museum and Adventures in Babysitting at the Castro Theatre. The cast of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was fantastic, but I had some issues with the movie itself. I’m glad I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi before spoilers, and I love Rose, but her name bothers me. (It’s very…earthy?) Call Me By Your Name was gorgeous, and I’m now a big fan of Timothée Chalamet. I want him to be nominated for all the big awards, but I worry that winning too soon won’t be good for his career.

Best Television

This year, I was more likely to watch TV shows on DVD sets from the library. Except for Saturday Night Live, I’ve only watched one hour of network television since September. I haven’t been able to stomach the NBC Chicago Fire/PD/Med shows since they did the Ghost Ship Fire episodes without warning Bay Area folks before the broadcast. I’m still waiting for Code Black to return (what’s up with that, CBS??).

2017 was the year I finally joined the Game of Thrones craze, binge-watching the first six seasons on DVD in early summer.  I also FINALLY watched My So-called Life. The Borgias was fun, and I also enjoyed Unit One (Rejseholdet) from Denmark.

Finally, seeing the miniseries When We Rise in the cinema, with the cast, creative team, and real-life activists, was one of my best experiences of 2017.

Best DVDs

The DVD movie that had the deepest impression on me this year was The Impossible (2012). I avoided it because I don’t usually like natural disaster films, but Tom Holland was amazing. Older films I enjoyed included As It Is In Heaven (Så som i himmelen) and Saint Ralph (both from 2004). Bob Roberts (1992) is a must-see for predicting many of Trump’s campaign tactics. I ugly-cried through most of The Shack. Megan Leavey and Tanna were happy surprises. The Bronze (2016) had my favorite sex scene, and Tiffany Haddish owned Girls Trip.

Best YouTube

I’ve enjoyed the crosswalk musicals from James Corden, especially Beauty and The Beast and Hair. Broadway bootlegs have become a guilty pleasure, particularly anything with Ben Platt. Little Alfie was adorable in his brother Oliver’s coming out video.

As for my own YouTube videos, the Ed Sheeran one has gone over 1 million views. I wish I’d given it a cleaner ending, but I’m still learning to use Shotcut.

Best Tweets

My most popular tweets of 2017 were a #DuvetKnowItsChristmas photo and my Academy Award tweet about the White Helmets.

Swear Trek has given me the most belly laughs this year.

Twitter has made me angry, made me cry, made me think. I used to ‘like’ tweets to save the best ones. These days I ‘like’ tweets to show support for political opinions and causes, which means I don’t have time to go back over the whole year to find the gems. Here are some standouts from the end of the year:

Best Theatre

I went to the theatre only twice this year, to see Homefront and The Prince of Egypt. I followed Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt, and Matthew James Thomas from afar, and I also started reading daily newsletters from Playbill. I may not see many shows, but at least I’m better informed.

Best Music

I started listening to Ed Sheeran this year, and I also added a lot of Broadway cast albums—Kinky Boots, Matilda, Anastasia, The Band’s Visit, Bandstand, etc—to my playlist. I also listened to lots of Matthew James Thomas tracks from Britannia High and Pippin.

Biggest Time-Sucker-Upper

I’ve spent a lot of 2017 reading email news briefs from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the LA Times, and The Guardian. I’m better informed than ever before. I’m also more bitter and angry. Hopefully. 2018 will bring more activism and better ways of coping.

Entertainer of the Year

This year I was more successful than usual at keeping my interests broad and wide-ranging. I didn’t obsess too much over any one actor or entertainer. That makes it harder to choose just one Entertainer of the Year. Some of the honorable mentions: the cast of Game of Thrones, Francois Arnaud, Matthew James Thomas, Ben Platt, Jack Lowden, Sebastian Stan, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Holland, Wilson Cruz, Timothée Chalamet, Swear Trek, and Ed Sheeran. For sheer number of hours spent reading (over 6000 pages), I’m going to have to choose Dorothy Dunnett as my 2017 Entertainer of the Year. (Finally, a woman!)

Dorothy Dunnett (1923-2001)

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Lots of Questions, No Real Answers

Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, James Toback, Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Sheen…

Last night I saw the news about George Takei. Today I read Ellen Page’s Facebook post.

There are so many things I’d rather be writing about today. Namely, the stuff that entertains me, rather than the stuff that leaves me feeling ill and heartsick. When the two intersect, as they do right now with daily revelations of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, I have many conflicting feelings as well as questions.

Do we believe everyone who comes forward with a story? How do we support the victims, while being fair to those whose lives and careers would be harmed by false accusations? It’s easy to believe allegations against people we don’t respect. Are we less willing to believe allegations against those whose work we admire?

Kevin Sorbo’s story about the late Italian designer Versace makes me wonder, what is accomplished by accusing someone deceased, who can’t respond or apologize, and who also can’t be prosecuted? Corey Haim can’t testify against those who abused him, but I certainly understand why his friends still want justice for him. That’s especially true if the people who hurt Haim are still around, hurting others.

Some folks on social media say they will boycott all Hollywood productions until this mess is cleaned up. What has to happen to make the entertainment industry a safe workplace for women, children, and anybody else in less powerful positions? I personally rely on movies and TV shows to keep my spirits up, now more than ever with our current president. I’ve always said, whenever someone has a bad accident or dies on a set, that I don’t want anybody to be harmed just so I can be entertained.

I’m not in the entertainment industry myself. How should I respond as a consumer?

I don’t have any answers.

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MHz Choice

Last year while searching the DVD shelf at my library, I came across the Montalbano series from Sicily. I checked out the first set of discs more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. The opening scenes were just okay, but about 20 minutes in, I knew I was hooked. Here’s a guy (played by the brilliant Luca Zingaretti) who looks tough, but really he’s a big softie. I’ve now watched all 30 TV movies, plus all the spinoff Young Montalbano episodes as well.

Montalbano

Young Montalbano

The two Montalbano series are distributed by MHz, and two months ago I subscribed to their streaming service. The first month is free, and there is usually a coupon for half off the second month. I’ve been enjoying the shows from all over Europe. I’m especially drawn to the Scandinavian ones. The subtitles are excellent, although I wouldn’t mind them being lower down on the screen.

I really enjoyed the Danish series Unit One with Mads Mikkelsen. Filmed from 2000 to 2004, this show has aged very well. Only the phones look dated. A police procedural about a homicide unit that travels to different parts of Denmark to help on cases, it’s refreshing how most of the crimes and violence happen off-screen. The later episodes are a bit more graphic. Unit One strikes a good balance between investigations and the personal lives of the detectives.

Unit One

I wish there was more of Anno 1790, a Swedish series about a military surgeon who uses his medical skills to solve criminal cases in Stockholm. With dangerous Enlightenment ideas of liberty and equality threatening the social order, and an attraction to the young wife of the police chief, surgeon Dåådh has a lot on his plate. With only 10 episodes, this one doesn’t require a big commitment.

Anno 1790

Borgen isn’t showing right now on the streaming service, but it’s mentioned in the description for 1864. I found Borgen at my library, and it’s also distributed by MHz. I’m halfway through the first season of three. Featuring Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones), it’s about a woman who becomes the first female prime minister of Denmark. The charismatic Asbæk plays her PR specialist/spin doctor. It’s a fascinating look at modern politics and the media. It helps to be familiar with a parliamentary government, which is different enough from the American model to require some google searches.

Borgen

Other series I’ve been enjoying are Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, the Arne Dahl mysteries, Crime Scene Cleaner, Cain, and Antigone 34. There’s a lot more to explore, and I just need to find the time!

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