Tag Archives: HBO

I Just Watched the Complete Series of Six Feet Under and All I Got was This Lousy Sense of Existential Dread

11 Sep
Six Feet Under starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell

Six Feet Under: starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell.

I am not a traditional television binge watcher, but it took me a little over a month to watch all 63 episodes of the 2001-2005 HBO series Six Feet Under, and today, I can say that I am finished with the series.  The show, which follows the Fisher family, a multigenerational clam operating a funeral home in Los Angeles.  The show opens with the death of its patriarch, the mysterious Nathaniel Fisher, whose life remains somewhat of a mystery to his three children Nate (Peter Krause), David (Michael C. Hall) and Claire (Lauren Ambrose).  To me, the show was a bit dated and filled with references to things that no one speaks about now – Sarah McLachlan, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and old cellphones, but if you can move past that bit of weird frozen-in-time feeling, you will make it through the series.

One of the things that I believe makes the series very difficult to watch is the low likability of several of the main characters.  We often see some members of the Fisher family and their surrounding characters acting in very selfish and narrow-minded ways.  Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) is one of the characters who only continued to build in his self-righteous and self-preserving ways.  I will never understand why Rico continued his employ and later partnership with David and Nate – he always seemed ready to fight with nearly everyone.  Rico’s character also provides moral conflict when the supposedly upstanding religious father and husband begins an affair with Sophia, a stripper who apparently gives him the best BJ ever, placing his marriage in jeopardy.  This storyline eventually becomes so stale that there is no way audience can continue to support Rico, and his character essentially becomes tarnished for the remainder of the series.

The major theme of the series of course is death, and each episode of the series begins with a death that demonstrates the delicate nature of life and the possibility that death is always nearby and a very real possibility.  Of course, from the pilot opening with the death of Nathaniel Fisher (Richard Jenkins), and the final episode of the series imagining the future deaths of the major characters of the show, the series stays true to its theme.  Despite this strength, the series is marred by a parade of selfish, over-bearing characters who are concerned with nothing but themselves.  Perhaps this is the aspect of the show that is truest to life, as learning that most people are selfish by nature is a part of reality.

Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) is a character who never quite gets over the fact that there is little more to life than getting older, working a job that you probably don’t really care for, and having difficulties in personal relationships.  He is consistently selfish in his interactions with his longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), which leads me to believe that Nate is actually the unbalanced person in that relationship, and not the long-suffering Brenda.  A good portion of Nate’s storyline finds him struggling with the idea of death, especially when he learns that he has a medical condition known as AVM, an abnormal connection between arteries and veins in the brain.  This will become important again later in the series.

Brenda, often portrayed as the “crazy one” on the series (alongside her brother), was formerly the subject of a psychology book studying her odd behavior as a child (Charlotte Light and Dark), is thoroughly damaged by her wealthy psychiatrist parents who were openly sexual in front of her and her brother Billy.  Billy Chenowith (Jeremy Sisto) is Brenda’ s bipolar artist brother who has a relationship with Claire early in the series and again once more later on.  Billy, seemingly forever unstable, later confesses to Brenda that he is in love with her – one of the few moments in the series that caused me to audibly gasp out loud.

Out of the more impressive performances in the series, Frances Conroy as Ruth Fisher, the widowed matriarch, is followed on a near-endless series of romantic mishaps and frustrations.  It is interesting to see an older woman struggling to not only reconcile the death of her husband, but to also seek love in unlikely places.  We think that Ruth finds true happiness and love with George Sibley (James Cromwell), but we see how that relationship has its own flaws.  Ruth’s experiences serve as a mirror of reality for viewers, teaching them that although life is ultimately good, it is filled with endless challenges and surprises.  My favorite character on the show is David Fisher (Michael C. Hall), Nate’s initially closeted brother and the heir apparent of the Fisher and Sons funeral home.  This is the most genuine performance on the series, with David confronting nearly every fear and personal problem possible.  His tumultuous relationship with Keith (Matthew St. Patrick) is a major focus of the show, in addition to the couple’s struggles to have a child.  For a television show produced in the early aughts, this is groundbreaking writing and focus on a committed homosexual couple, which was really never seen before.  Michael C. Hall, who later went on to play Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s series about a moral serial killer, is a national treasure as far as I’m concerned.  There is, however, a very long storyline involving an incident in which David was held at gunpoint by a crazed stranger that continues to drag on far too long.

Overall, the series is a great precursor to Alan Ball’s later work, which of course includes another familiar HBO series, True Blood.   The subject matter of Six Feet Under is daring for the time in which it aired, bringing death, humanity, and sexuality to the forefront of paid cable television.  This is one of the original series that established HBO as a powerhouse, as it originally aired on Sundays, following The Sopranos.

My biggest criticism of the series is perhaps not a valid criticism at all, but I truly was annoyed by several characters on a regular basis.  The biggest offender of this was the character of Nate Fisher, Jr., who is also the protagonist of the series.  In his relationship with Brenda, I found him to be insufferably selfish, and when he later marries Lisa out of obligation (i.e., pregnancy), he becomes even more unbearably obnoxious.  I suppose the goal of Nate’s character was to show us that life really does not have to be something amazing that we imagine in our heads – it can simply be what we have, and our obligation is to enjoy it as best we can.  Nate’s narcissistic worldview that he was worth more than being a funeral director and worth more than being with Brenda was hard to watch.  If you make it to season five, some of Nate’s actions will leave you very upset, including a fateful scene in which Nate crosses the line.

If you can bear the thought of watching a show with the primary theme of death, Six Feet Under is worth watching.  However, be prepared to wallow in thoughts of death and dying for far too long during your day.  This series successfully explores the classic question of existentialism: what does it all mean?

Art Weingartner Lives On Forever: Rick Ducommun Dead at 62

20 Jun

Perhaps best known for playing nosy neighbor Art Wiengartner in the cult classic film The ‘Burbs, Rick Ducommun’s career started in stand up and lead to a string of supporting comedic roles in the 1980s and 1990s.  Rick Ducommun died on June 12, 2015 at the age of 62, due to complications from diabetes.  Ducommun’s performance as Art was a comedic triumph and a delight for anyone who saw The ‘Burbs.  Art Wiengartner was the perfect overzealous neighbor, inviting himself to eat at Ray Peterson’s house and sharing his theories on the new neighbors who move into the Klopeck house down the street.  Ducommun’s comedic timing was on point, especially with the delivery of his most quoted line: “Satan is good, Satan is our pal…”.

The Burbs - Art

Here is a best of compilation showing some of Art’s classic moments:

The ‘Burbs was a film favorite for me in my childhood, but Ducommun also appeared in movies like Little Monsters as the villain Snik, and as Gus, one of the bar patrons who spends his night with Phil Connors over and over again.  He also appeared as the limo driver in Blank Check.  Ducommun was also an accomplished stand up comedian, with an HBO special airing on HBO called “Rick Ducommun: Piece of Mind”.

Groundhog Day - Rick Ducommun

LITTLE MONSTERS, Rick Ducommun, Howie Mandel, 1989.

LITTLE MONSTERS, Rick Ducommun, Howie Mandel, 1989.

Rick Ducommun certainly had a huge stage presence, and he was a scene stealer in many of his roles.  His career never blew up like many of the stand-up comedians who went on to have their own sitcoms or starring film roles, but Ducommun is memorable, and I certainly count him among my comedic influences.

Pour one out for Rick Ducommun.

Tim Molloy Reminds Me of My Father, and for That He Should Apologize

12 Jan

Lena Dunham. Photo by Terry Richardson.

I was about ten or eleven years old when my father said what is probably one of few things I remember him saying to me during my childhood.  I was sitting at the family computer, presumably working on my homework, when he came up to me, poked me in my stomach, and said, “you gotta lose that.”  This moment emblazoned itself into the back of my mind many years ago, and at any time I experience an insecurity about my body, I trace it back to this one defining moment.

I am sure that my father thought he was being helpful.  However, what he said in that moment has become the topic of $100 per hour therapy sessions, problems in my intimate relationships with men, and the lingering thought in the back of my head that no one will ever love me because of my stomach paunch.  If anything, this is one of the moments that further caused a lack of bonding between myself and my father, someone whom I speak to on a semi-regular basis due to his living thousands of miles away from where I am now.

There’s nothing more annoying than someone who feels the need to give you their opinion in regard to your body or the bodies of others, especially when it is unsolicited.  This appears to be something done primarily by men, but women are guilty as well.  Unless someone asks your opinion, the topic of their body should be completely verboten.

When Tim Molloy of The Wrap asked a question at a panel  at the Television Critics Association including Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham, the creators of the HBO show Girls, he attempted to breach the subject of the nudity of Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath.  Here’s what Tim had to say for himself:

I don’t get the purpose of all of the nudity on the show, by you particularly, and I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go, ‘Nobody complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they are doing it… They are doing it to be salacious and, you know, titillate people. And your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.

Yikes, where to begin.  It is obvious that Molloy’s statement is ultimately irrelevant, especially when Girls is entering a third season and enough backlash regarding Lena Dunham’s choice to appear nude in her own television show already unfolded in the last two years.  Additionally, Molloy is speaking directly about Dunham in particular, and not about any other actors appearing on the show.  His comments are meant to be a direct attack on a woman whose body is not considered perfect in the traditional sense.  And god forbid that such a woman be depicted nude in any manner.

Despite Molloy’s rude comment, Dunham’s response was rather diplomatic:

Yeah. It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem.

Dunham is aware of what she looks like and that she is not, nor will she ever be, a skinny Hollywood actress type.  I feel that Molloy’s question was nothing but clearcut trolling.  He knew the type of reaction that his question would garner and he obviously has little to no respect for Dunham.  Molloy’s opinion on Dunham’s body, and whether or not he wants to see it, is something he should keep to himself.  Judd Apatow reportedly later spoke with Molloy privately, letting him know that the “tenor” of his question was inappropriate, and ultimately, misogynistic.

Let’s be honest.  A lot of men should feel grateful that they are getting any sex at all.  There are countless men who feel they are entitled to be with models or women who look like models, but they are not pictures of Adonis themselves.  This hypocrisy leads to many imbalanced relationships and countless incidences of emotional and mental abuse. People also ultimately lose sight of what are important qualities in partners, such as emotional support, RESPECT, and a general sense of kindness and love.

When it comes down to it, the best method of broaching the subject of another human being’s body is to not broach the subject at all.  If someone is remotely overweight, they are completely aware.  The same goes for those who are underweight, or men who are frequenting the gym to build up their pecs and arms.  Everyone stands in front of the mirror and KNOWS what they look like.  This is not a mystery to anyone, so keep it to yourself.

Many people comment on how confident I appear in myself and with my body, but every so often my mind returns to those moments in which I was made to feel less than perfect, less than deserving.  Even the most confident of people have small insecurities, and the only logical thing is to try to be a better human and not hack open old wounds.

The Newsroom: Aaron Sorkin Forgets What Year It Is

24 Jun

The cast of HBO’s The Newsroom, looking Sorkinish.

Watching The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series following the misadventures of a Keith Olberman-like cable news anchor (Jeff Daniels), is like being subjected to a horrible children’s show without the pleasure of a cartoon dog. Aaron Sorkin attempted the show-within-a-show genre before in 2006 with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. That show, which you may not remember, failed miserably when it tried to be edgy and smart.

Sorkin is at it again, writing characters who are so unrealistically sharp and quick that their believability is lost when “Written by Aaron Sorkin” appears across the screen.  The way the actors yip their dialogue at each other with such violent speed leaves no time for anything to be absorbed.  The audience is left behind to try to piece together everything that’s just been said as the dialogue continues barreling onward.

The biggest problem with the show is that it takes place two years in the past. I have no idea why and I don’t care to find out why, but the main action of the pilot centers on the news of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  That’s right, the breaking news on The Newsroom happened over two years ago!!! Amazing! Maybe Sorkin is going to try some sort of time-jumping plotting, but I truly doubt that The Newsroom will end up being a science fiction show.

Here’s a sample of Jim Harper (Hello, Jim Halpert!?! Too close!) explaining the seriousness of the oil spill to Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), anchor of News Night on ACN:

Jim: “They don’t know how to cap the well.”

Will: “Why is this well different from other wells?”

Jim: “It’s depth.”


Another issue in the show is the way the female characters speak. In true Aaron Sorkin style, there are two female characters and everyone else has a penis.  Those female characters are Mackenize (Emily Mortimer) and Maggie (Erin Andrews). Could those names be more “Most Popular Names for Children of Yuppies 2007”? Mackenzie dated McAvoy one million years ago (but of course it is a HUGE deal) and is now his executive producer on News Night. She spent her last few assignments in Iraq and is our solitary strong female character, even though she spends the episode whining about McAvoy going on vacation with Erin Andrews. Our other female character is Maggie Jordan (ew), played by Allison Pill. Maggie, most naturally, obsesses over relationships just like Mackenzie. How much penis worship can Sorkin force these two ladies to spew out? Not enough, as the first episode indicates.

Another tired Sorkin standard is the use of camera zooms to emphasize tension between characters and in the story.  If a character says something that is should be perceived as dramatic or intense in any way, the camera will quickly zoom in on their face and then pull back.  This happened at least twenty times in the pilot episode. That zoom is played out, Sorkin.

The Newsroom is another show about a TV show that fails to capture anything relevant.  The fact that the plot of the show centers on an event so far in the past (though not too far as to diminish the impact of the disaster) makes it feel stale and irrelevant.  And who is Jeff Daniels playing? I sense a strong scent of Olbermann with a hint of Bill O’Reilly, without the extreme conservative bent. Supposedly he is a right-leaning journalist, but we have not seen that quite yet. When McAvoy refers to the one minority character (Dev Patel, although I am not counting the nameless black man) on the show as Punjab, that O’Reilly scent arises once more. In any case, Jeff Daniels does not look as serious as the man he is trying to play. He also looks like he had some botox, but that’s just my opinion.

Should you watch The Newsroom? Meh. The Newsroom airs Sunday nights at 10 PM EST on HBO.

HBO’s New Show, Girls, Is a Little Bit Irksome.

16 Apr

Would you like some wine with that cheese, young ladies?

HBO has been promoting the shit out of their new original series, Girls. Those annoying pop-up ads have been all over Jezebel, making me look forward to the show for weeks.  I just watched the series premiere, and my reaction lays somewhere between “blah” and “meh”. Created by Lena Dunham, a 25-year-old whose 2009 film Tiny Furniture made waves at SXSW, Girls is also executive produced by Judd Apatow.

The first thing that bothered me about Girls was its collection of actresses who would likely only be actresses due to nepotism. Dunham herself is the daughter of two notable artists, Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham. She is perhaps the most relatable out of the cast.  The other main characters are played by Allison Williams, daughter of Brian Williams, yes, THE Brian WIlliams, Zosia Mamet, daughter of David Mamet, critically acclaimed playwright, and Jemima Kirke, daughter of Simon Kirke, drummer for the band Bad Company. It’s really quite annoying when you realize how well-connected this collection of young girls really is. All of a sudden, any ounce of believability that these actresses have ever struggled, especially in the financial sense, like many 24-year-olds entering the real world, and like we should believe about these twenty-somethings trying to find themselves, completely leaves your mind.  These characters are mind-blowingly entitled and self-absorbed, and our main character, Hannah, just could be the worst.

Lena plays Hannah Horvath, a 24-year-old who’s been out of college for two years and only works an unpaid internship while her college professor parents support her.  In the opening scene of Girls, Hannah’s parents tell her that they’ll be cutting her off financially. Her whiny reaction makes any person who ever had a job before the age of twenty cringe in horror.  I was supporting myself at the age of 18 or 19, which is actually late for many people who do not have wealthy parents to support them, so Hannah’s bratty reaction is alienating to many young people. I have also had an unpaid internship, but unlike Hannah, instead of going to my supervisor and demanding that he pay me for fucking around on a Mac all day long, I went out and got THREE additional paying jobs.

I was looking forward to Girls very much, but if the apex of the show’s story is Hannah’s griping over her parents not giving her money to do whatever the hell she does other than look for a job, I will not become a fan.  There was one moment in which I did feel bad for Hannah. Her odd-looking carpenter boyfriend, Adam, practically deceives Hannah into having doggystyle sex on his couch, hinting that he might not be wearing a condom, despite her vocal request.

There are some bright spots in the show. I am referring primarily to the subtly sharp one-liners spouted off by Dunham and her father, played by Peter Scolari of Bosom Buddies fame.  After ingesting a large amount of opium-infused tea and ending up sprawled on the floor, her father suggests she drink a cup of coffee. Hannah yells at her father,  “Coffee is for grown-ups!” Scolari’s retort: “You’re going to drink a strong cup of coffee!!!”  Perhaps Apatow will use his magical comedy powers to bring us more varied and peerless guest performers in future episodes. Girls has promise, but no power. Who wants to cheer for a girl who literally begs her parents for money? Is this the generation I belong to? It’s true, we’re all doomed.