Tag Archives: Private Practice

HBO’s Leftovers a non-stop gloomathon

The Leftovers

Justin Theroux stars as beleaguered small-town police chief Kevin Garvey in `The Leftovers,’ which begins its first season Sunday night on HBO.

The Leftovers, an ambitious new HBO series adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s best-selling novel premiering Sunday night, opens with what is arguably its best scene. Three years ago, on Oct. 14, a frazzled young mother has just finished doing her laundry in a grimy laundromat, and now she’s buckling her whining infant into his car seat. That mission accomplished, she gets into the driver’s seat, chatting on her phone with someone at home, but then notices her baby has gone silent. No, wait. He’s just gone.
Panicking, she jumps out of the car and starts frantically calling the child’s name. Simultaneously, a few feet away in the same parking lot, a little boy begins screaming for his suddenly missing father, a grocery cart still in motion from where the dad had been pushing it a split second ago. In the distance, we see a serious car accident as one car, abruptly driverless, plows into another, badly injuring that driver.
Such eerie incidents are happening, not only here in rustic Mapleton, N.Y., but all around the globe, where mathematicians eventually will estimate that two percent of the world’s population has gone missing. Among those who were not spirited away, many of them surmise that the Rapture has occurred and they have been tried by heaven and found undeserving.
But is it? The more people look at who was taken, the less sense this “Sudden Departure” seems to make. Those who vanished on that Oct. 14 seemed to be a mystifyingly random collection. In addition to the righteous and heroic, that group also included known rapists, pedophiles, drug pushers, abusive parents and other heinous types. (In the only truly funny moment that occurs during the four episodes HBO provided for screening, we learn via a newscast in a bar that the Departed also included celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, Gary Busey, Jennifer Lopez and Shaquille O’Neal, among others).
Their loved ones snatched away by a bizarre event that surpasses comprehension, the remaining Mapleton residents struggle to find some meaning in their loss. Some suffer mental breakdowns. Some commit suicide. Others, like wife and mother Laurie (Amy Brenneman, Private Practice), leave their families to join a weird new fellowship that calls itself the Guilty Remnant. Its members, most of them chainsmokers, dress entirely in white and never speak, not even when alone with each other. Inherently non-confrontational, they travel in pairs and stand mutely yet prominently in public places, or quietly stalk local citizens who have caught their eye. They are not very popular.
The Guilty Remnant’s apparent purpose is to make sure no one forgets that the Sudden Departure happened. But to what end? The group doesn’t seem to attach explicitly religious significance to the event, nor can they shed any light on what it means. Four episodes in, I’m still completely stumped.
At the heart of The Leftovers is the Garvey family. The father, Kevin (Justin Theroux), is the town’s stressed-out police chief who realizes he is sitting on a pressure cooker that could blow at any moment. That’s true at home, too. His wife is gone, so three years after the event, Kevin and his headstrong teenage daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), are just trying to pretend that the “old normal” still prevails. Meanwhile, Kevin’s son, Tom (Chris Zylka), has drifted into the orbit of a cult leader (Paterson Joseph), who calls himself Holy Wayne and offers to “hug the pain away” for his acolytes, especially if they are underage Asian girls.
I absolutely get that The Leftovers is tackling some very big, very complex questions about the nature of life, the meaning of death, man’s relationship to God and the universe, lots of the biggies. And I applaud co-creators Perrotta and Damon Lindelof (Lost) for their courage and ambition. The huge ensemble — which also includes Ann Dowd (Michael Sheen’s mother in Showtime’s Masters of Sex), Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) and a beguiling theater-trained newcomer named Carrie Coon – turns in consistently strong work as well.
All that said, too much of The Leftovers is a real slog. Relentlessly somber even when it’s not aggressively depressing, the series just started to wear me down after awhile, and I’m not a guy who needs something to blow up on a regular basis to keep me entertained. I haven’t read Perrotta’s novel, but what may be fully engaging on the page too often feels inert and listless when we see it acted out. Case in point: the extended “conversations” between members of the Guilty Remnants, which force us to watch as one person scribbles down his “line” and shows it to the other person, who then takes his/her tablet and writes down the response and holds it up, etc., etc. If you think that doesn’t make for compelling television, well, you’d be right.
I watched all four of the episodes pretty much straight through, which is definitely not the way you want to approach such bleak material. On the other hand, it did make me feel immersed in the world of this story – because after four hours, I was ready to scream “Take me! Take me now!”
HBO's 'The Leftovers' with Amy Brenneman.

Laurie (Amy Brenneman) retreats to a mute existence in the Guilty Remnant in ‘The Leftovers’ on HBO.

Steven Bochco’s back with Murder in the First on TNT

'Murder in the First' premieres Monday on TNT.

Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs star as San Francisco police detectives investigating a pair of apparently connected killings in ‘Murder in the First,’ premiering Monday on TNT.

Ten-time Emmy winner Steven Bochco returns to primetime in his wheelhouse – the cop/courtroom drama – with Murder in the First, an uneven but promising new series premiering Monday night on TNT.
The iconoclastic writer and producer could use a hit right now. Since his groundbreaking NYPD Blue ended its ABC run after 12 seasons in 2005, he’s had two ratings failures. The excellent Geena Davis political drama Commander in Chief (ABC, 2005-06) lasted only a single season, while the quirky legal dramedy Raising the Bar eked out a 2008-09 two-season run on TNT.
Murder in the First borrows the same basic format as Bochco’s 1995-97 ABC courtroom drama Murder One, in that it follows a single case over the course of this 10-episode season. What seemed revolutionary in 1995, however, now seems commonplace. In fact, given Bochco’s career-long reputation as an artistic maverick, the most surprising thing about Murder in the First is how unsurprising it is.
Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Kathleen Robertson (Bates Motel) star as San Francisco Police detectives Terry English and Hildy Mulligan, respectively, who are investigating two seemingly unrelated murders in the premiere episode. One involves a junkie shot to death in his seedy flophouse apartment. The other victim is a beautiful (and very nude) blonde found dead at the bottom of a staircase inside her home.
In short order, however, Terry and Hildy discover that both victims had intimate ties to an unlikely but high-profile suspect: Silicon Valley boy wonder Erich Blunt (Tom Felton from the Harry Potter movie series), whose technical wizardry has transformed him into the world’s youngest billionaire.
Erich’s initial arrogance when confronted by the detectives starts to crumble as compelling circumstantial evidence against him begins piling up, so he hires super-attorney Warren Daniels (Emmy winner James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum) to represent him in court.
If Erich is the prime suspect, however, Terry and Hildy find another person of interest in Bill Wilkerson (Steven Weber, Wings), Erich’s driver and pilot, who also had had a sexual relationship with the dead woman.
TNT sent the first three episodes of Murder in the First for review, which was a smart move, because Monday’s episode is not especially compelling. In the span of a single hour, the premiere tries to introduce a staggering number of characters as well as laying out the basic details of the two murders. Concurrently, a secondary storyline shows Diggs’ character coming apart under the strain of caring for her terminally ill wife (Anne-Marie Johnson, In the Heat of the Night), a tedious subplot that only serves to distract us from the central mystery.
Robertson is terrific as Hildy, a single mom who is smart, focused and given to wisecracks. Diggs is fine, but his character’s personal story feels arbitrary and grafted on.
Based on the three episodes of Murder in the First I’ve seen, it’s Felton who turns in the most galvanizing performance. Now 26, the British actor spent most of his teen years playing nasty Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, but he has matured into a confident grown-up actor who skillfully plays things right down the middle as our principal suspect, keeping us guessing from scene to scene as to whether Erich is a sociopathic killer or just an innocent jerk. He also has potent chemistry with Robertson in scenes where each is trying to charm the other to find out what he/she knows.
By the end of the third episode, I was pretty firmly invested in Murder in the First, which sports a large ensemble that also includes Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time), Nicole Ari Parker (Revolution) and Currie Graham (Raising the Bar). If this show feels like a throwback for Bochco, maybe he just figured if it’s not broken, why fix it?
Tom Felton in 'Murder in the First.'

British actor Tom Felton stars as a young Silicon Valley billionaire who becomes the prime suspect in a double murder in TNT’s new drama ‘Murder in the First.’

FX’s Fargo recaptures spirit of the Coens’ film

Billy Bob Thornton stars in Fargo.

Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton stars as a hired killer with an eccentric notion of morality in ‘Fargo,’ premiering tonight on FX.

When I heard that FX was adapting the Oscar-winning movie Fargo into a 10-episode limited series, which premieres tonight, I felt a mixture of joy and apprehension.
On the one hand, Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliant 1996 black comedy sits securely in my own private list of the five best American movies ever made. On the other, one of the reasons I loved it as much as I do is that Fargo was so defiantly its own thing, a movie that pretty much defied pigeonholing, I was skeptical it could be adapted to another medium.
Thankfully, series creator and executive producer Noah Hawley “gets” Fargo on every level, and his series uncannily captures the spirit and energy of the Coens’ classic, while striking off in its own direction. You won’t find police chief Marge Gunderson (Oscar winner Frances McDormand) or hapless car dealer Jerry Lundergaard (should-have-been-an Oscar winner William H. Macy) – or even a woodchipper, for that matter – in Fargo the series, but you’ll definitely recognize the distinctive combo platter of comedy, violence and Minnesota Nice.
Among its many new characters, Fargo first introduces us to Lorne Malvo (Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton), a laconic hit man whose latest gig goes south in the opening minutes of tonight’s pilot. While he collects himself and prepares to head to his next assignment, Lorne crosses paths with Lester Nygaard (Sherlock star Martin Freeman, making his American TV series debut), a sad-sack Bemidji, Minn., insurance salesman whose wife (Kelly Holden Bashar) belittles everything he does, especially compared to Lester’s much more successful younger brother. Poor Lester is such a meek loser that, even in middle age, he finds himself tormented regularly by Sam Hess (Kevin O’Grady), the bully who made his life a living hell back in high school.
In the way life so often would have it, while Lester is still trying desperately to meet his wife’s lifestyle expectations, Sam is now a local trucking executive married to a former Las Vegas stripper (Kate Walsh, so delightfully funny that I’m ready to forget the silly soapiness of Private Practice).
And while Lorne is, in some respects, a spiritual brother to Anton Chigurh, the stone-cold killer Javier Bardem played in No Country for Old Men, something about Lester’s plight stirs Lorne’s very peculiar sense of moral outrage. Unfortunately, as he tries to set things right for Lester, Lorne sets them both plummeting down a rabbit hole of violence and chaos.
FX very helpfully sent out the first four episodes of Fargo, but I don’t want to give up any more plot details, because this show, by its very nature, is packed with surprises. Time and again, a moment of laugh-out-loud comedy is shattered by a hideous act of violence, and vice versa.
And oh, the dialogue. Fargo is one of those gloriously “written” series, where the characters spout lines that soar just a bit higher than normal conversation. Consider this wonderful moment, near the end of tonight’s pilot, that takes place after smalltown Minnesota cop Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) pulls over Lorne for bombing through a stop sign. Lorne is driving Lester’s car, a fact that could be severely incriminating, especially after Gus asks for his license and registration – and we can tell Lorne is going to kill Gus if he presses the issue.
Locking eyes with Gus, Lorne replies in a level voice: “We could do it that way. You ask me for my papers, I tell you it’s not my car, that I borrowed it. See where it goes. Or you could get in your car and drive away. … Because some roads you shouldn’t go down. Maps used to say ‘There be dragons here.’ Now they don’t. But that don’t mean the dragons ain’t there.”
I’m not saying that the new FX adaptation of Fargo is as good as the Coens’ masterpiece, but it does have just as strong a creative sense of itself and a confidence to pull it off. I’ll be watching.
Martin Freeman stars in 'Fargo.'

British actor Martin Freeman makes his American TV series debut in ‘Fargo.’