Tag Archives: Sherlock

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.’

Mr. Selfridge reopens for a second season on PBS

'Mr. Selfridge' on PBS.

Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven, center) thanks his staff on his store’s fifth anniversary in tonight’s two-hour ‘Masterpiece’ premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge’ on PBS.


Mr. Selfridge, the glossy and gloriously addictive Masterpiece soap opera somewhat freely adapted from historical events, ended Season One (now available for free streaming for Amazon Prime subscribers) with Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) at a low point both personally and professionally. Window designer Henri LeClair (Gregory Fitoussi), whose displays had played an invaluable part in giving Selfridge’s department store a striking public image, had turned in his notice to accept a high-profile job in New York, a decision Harry perceived as a personal betrayal.
Far worse, his long-suffering wife, Rose (Frances O’Connor), decided to leave London and take their children back to America after she reluctantly agreed to accompany her husband to the opening of a new play that starred his most recent mistress, only to discover the piece was a savage satire attacking the private lives of her family.
Season Two, which premieres tonight on PBS with a two-hour episode, picks things up five years later, in the spring of 2014, as the Selfridge’s staff prepares to celebrate the store’s fifth anniversary. Rose, good as her word, has kept the kids stateside during the interval, but she returns to London to perform her wifely duties – specifically and pointedly limited to performing her Mrs. Selfridge role at public events. Beyond that, she makes clear, she is not remotely interesting in resuming a relationship with Harry after his years of compulsive infidelity.
Joining his parents in London is Selfridge scion Gordon (Greg Austin), now 15, who announces his intentions to quit school in favor of starting his training to run a store he eventually will inherit. Rose protests, but Harry approves. Unfortunately for Gordon, he soon discovers that being the boss’s son, especially at a time when rumors of war are stirring up labor unrest, can be a mixed blessing at best.
Greg Austin joins the cast of the 'Masterpiece' series 'Mr Selfridge' this season.

Greg Austin takes over the role of son Gordon Selfridge, now 15, in tonight’s Season Two premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge’ on ‘Masterpiece.’


The gala anniversary prompts the return of others as well, including Harry’s protégée Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus), back from an intensive two-year design program in Paris and ready to assume her new duties as head of display for the entire store. She immediately clashes, however, with Selfridge’s officious new head of fashion, Mr. Thackeray (Cal Macaninch), who promptly starts engineering a stealth campaign to ensure Agnes’ failure.
Elsewhere, Harry’s high-maintenance yet loyal friend and benefactor Lady Mae (Katherine Kelly) faces an unpleasant obstacle when her errant and usually absent husband, Lord Loxley (Aidan McArdle), unexpectedly returns, bankrupt from gambling and seeking to replenish his fortune by fair means or foul – mostly the latter, which include blackmail and war profiteering.
On a far more pleasant note, those of us who watched sadly last season as Miss Mardle (the glorious Amanda Abbington, Sherlock) was jilted by her selfish lover, Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill), can revel in some major karmic blowback this season, as fate smiles brightly on the former and nearly crushes the latter.
Also joining the cast this season is the delightful Polly Walker (HBO’s Rome) as Rose’s new close friend Delphine Day, whose bohemian sensibilities – along with a spicy autobiography and sexy new nightclub – only sharpen Rose’s resolve to be her own woman, free of submission to Harry’s humiliations.
Piven, who is also a producer on the series, is somewhat ideally cast as the intense, brash title character, and he pulls off the character’s more vulnerable moments – which felt false too often in Season One – more successfully in the new episodes (to paraphrase a very old joke, apparently this actor finally has mastered the art of faking sincerity). The only jarring note is the new character of Lord Loxley, a one-dimensional pipsqueak of a villain portrayed by McArdle in a laughably over-the-top performance.
As in Season One, the lavish physical production, with what appears to be slavish attention to period details, is beyond reproach, fully on the same impressive level as Masterpiece’s uber-smash, Downton Abbey. Mr. Selfridge may not be high art, but it is gourmet popcorn of the highest level.
Polly Walker (center) joins the cast of 'Mr. Selfridge' for  Season Two.

Rose Selfridge (Frances O’Connor, left) congratulates her new friend Delphine Day (Polly Walker, center) on the publication of her racy new autobiography in tonight’s ‘Maseterpiece’ season premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge.’

Da Vinci’s Demons paints a wider canvas for Season 2

Tom Riley stars in 'Da Vinci's Demons.'

Tom Riley (center) returns as Renaissance inventor, artist and adventurer Leonardo Da Vinci in Season 2 of ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ premiering tonight on Starz.


Da Vinci’s Demons, the sexy historical fantasy that kicks off its second season tonight on Starz, opens with a surreal prologue that finds Da Vinci (Tom Riley) and his nemesis, Count Riario (Blake Ritson), in a setting and situation that may have you wondering whether you’ve wandered into Indiana Da Vinci and the Temple of Doom by mistake.
As weird as that scene is – don’t worry, you’ll find out what it means in a few episodes – it serves notice that the fantastic adventures of the title character are going to take him far away from his hometown of Florence, Italy this season.
After that brief opening scene, however, the action flashes back to pick things up where we left them at the climax to Season 1: the chaotic violence shaking Florence to its foundations following a ghastly betrayal by the treacherous Pazzi family, in cahoots with the forces of Rome. His brother dead, a critically wounded Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan) struggles to stay conscious as Da Vinci frantically tries to get him to safety. Nearby, Medici’s wife, Clarice Orsini (Lara Pulver, Sherlock), desperately tries to keep ahead of angry mobs as she rushes their young daughters to the relative safety of the Medici palace.
Resolving the pandemonium that prevails throughout the city takes up most of the first two episodes, but ultimately Da Vinci returns to the same obsession that drove him last season: locating a fabled tome called the Book of Leaves, which he suspects contains vital clues about his dimly remembered mother, as well as the truth about his own identity. That book, he learns, is located across the ocean, in the New World. Unfortunately, Count Riario, seeking the volume for his own ends, has a head start on Da Vinci.
In the season’s other major story line, we learn the secret of Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), former lover to both Da Vinci and Medici, and her relationship to the mysterious prisoner in the dungeons of the Vatican, a revelation that sends Lucrezia on her own dangerous journey to Constantinople.
In terms of sheer scale, these new episodes (Starz made the first five available for preview) dwarf what preceded them as fate separates these principal characters and sends them in pursuit of their individual (and eventually interlinked) destinies. Each of these threads has engaging plot developments that fans should enjoy, but I have to admit, I miss seeing these main characters sharing the screen together as often as they did before. Season 2 is bigger and more epic, to be sure, but there’s a trade-off in terms of focus, which simply isn’t as sharp as it was last season.
Among new cast additions, Lee Boardman is delightful as Amerigo Vespucci, the famous explorer portrayed here as the P.T. Barnum of the Renaissance, but Da Vinci’s Demons properly is dominated by Riley’s Da Vinci, a performance that is even more finely detailed than it was previously. Like Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, Riley artfully conveys the impression of a genius whose mental gears never, ever stop spinning, as well as the frequent impatience and arrogance that comes with being the smartest guy in any room. With a prickly hero like this, fans of Da Vinci’s Demons will happily follow him to the New World and beyond.
Fast-talking explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman, left) teams up with Leonardo da Vinci and his friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin, right) in Season 2 of 'Da Vinci's Demons.'

Fast-talking explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman, left) teams up with Leonardo da Vinci and his friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin, right) in Season 2 of ‘Da Vinci’s Demons.’

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PBS delivers a valentine from London’s National Theatre

Judi Dench performs 'Send in the Clowns.'

Judi Dench performs ‘Send in the Clowns’ from ‘A Little Night Music’ during ‘ National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage,’ tonight on ‘Great Performances.’


If you’re eager to take a break from the Winter Olympic Games, or if you’re just ready for two beguiling hours of television on general principal, Great Performances tonight presents the national television premiere of National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage on many PBS affiliates (as always, check your local TV listings to confirm when it’s airing in your area).
This glittering two-hour special, which was screened as a live satellite transmission to a limited number of U.S. movie theaters last November, spotlights a jaw-dropping array of British actors as they assemble to pay tribute to the first half-century of productions at a venue that is their part-time home: The National Theatre, which opened its doors at the Old Vic in 1983 under the artistic leadership of Sir Laurence Olivier before eventually transferring to its current location on London’s South Bank. The NT, which houses the Olivier, Lyttleton and Cottlesloe Theatres, annual generates an acclaimed combination of both classics and new works each night.
The evening’s program combines archival snippets of great past productions with a number of actors appearing live on stage to perform a speech from a play with which they’re associated. In the most moving example, we see an old clip of Maggie Smith at her most hilariously mannered in a production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever from her salad days, juxtaposed with the veteran actress of today as she recites a worldly-wise monologue from The Beaux’ Strategem, a Restoration comedy.
Another huge audience favorite, Judi Dench, appears to recreate two roles that won her the Olivier Award (London’s equivalent of the Tony Award) as best actress: as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and as aging actress Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.
Among Britain’s younger contingent of stars, Benedict Cumberbatch appears in a scene from his past triumph in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, while Cumberbatch’s Sherlock nemesis, Andrew Scott, and Dominic Cooper perform a scene from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
The cast of 100 performers also includes such familiar faces as Christopher Eccleston, Joan Plowright, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Penelope Keith, Helen Mirren and Derek Jacobi.
As the program unfolds, the producers’ desire to pack as much as possible into two hours inevitably starts to feel like the video equivalent of picking one’s way through the greatest Whitman’s chocolate sampler of all time, as one great moment in English drama after another follows all too fleetingly on the other. Also, I do regret that not all plays or even featured performers are identified (for the record, that’s a singer named Clive Rowe bringing down the house in “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls).
Still, even if you can’t put a name to an occasional face or performance, there’s no missing that, in terms of quality per minute, National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage is an embarrassment of riches.
Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Rosenkrantz in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.’

A new game’s afoot as Sherlock returns for Season 3

Season 3 of 'Sherlock' begins tonight on PBS.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch (from left) return as Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Season 3 of ‘Sherlock,’ beginning tonight on PBS’ ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’


The last time we saw Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), he was standing quietly in a graveyard and covertly watching as his best friend, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), stood grieving at Sherlock’s graveside. John is numb with shock, having watched in disbelief as his dear friend, by all appearances, committed suicide by jumping from the top of a tall building.
As Sherlock finally returns tonight for its third season on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery!, two years have passed since that day and, for John, they’ve been two very dark years. Grief, as well as a moustache he ill-advisedly is now sporting, has aged him well beyond his years, and he hasn’t even been in touch with his former landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), since that fateful day.
Meanwhile, viewers are learning what Sherlock has been doing all this time and why. Only brother Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss, who also wrote tonight’s season premiere) and a few members of his team have known that Sherlock isn’t dead. Now, as a horrifying terrorist threat looms over London, it’s time for the great sleuth to reveal himself to his loved ones.
Sherlock is looking forward to reconnecting with John, brushing aside Mycroft’s suggestion that their reunion may be a little sensitive.
“It’s been two years,” Mycroft tells his brother. “He’s gotten on with his life.”
“What life?” Sherlock snorts incredulously. “I’ve been away.”
The show’s creative team has asked critics not to divulge how John reacts to Sherlock’s reappearance, but think about it: How would you react if you discovered that your dearest friend had just put you through two years of the most hellish grief you could ever imagine?
In fact, the majority of tonight’s episode focuses on the close relationship between these two men, but that doesn’t mean it’s short on laughs. The title of the season premiere is “The Empty Hearse,” which refers to a social group Scotland Yard staffer Philip Anderson (Jonathan Aris) has founded for conspiracy theorists who want to get together to hash out possible scenarios for how Sherlock may have eluded death. It’s a clever tip of the hat to the many, many Sherlock fans who just as obsessively have gone online and shared how-he-dunnit theories during this two-year hiatus.
There’s not much else I can divulge about tonight’s episode – the first of three this season – without wading into some serious spoilers, so let me leave it at this: Sherlock is back, and better than ever.
Amanda Abbington co-stars this season in 'Sherlock.'

Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s longtime companion in real life, co-stars this season on ‘Sherlock’ as Mary Morstan, the new woman in John Watson’s life.

New on home video: Two Emmy nominees from HBO

Candelabra
Director Steven Soderbergh had no luck finding a commercial distributor for Behind the Candelabra, his movie about the turbulent relationship between flamboyant showman Liberace and his erstwhile lover Scott Thorson, but the lavish production certainly found a cushy home at HBO, where the film pulled some of the highest ratings in the premium channel’s recent history and snagged a staggering 15 Primetime Emmy nominations.
This Tuesday, HBO Home Entertainment releases Candelabra in both DVD and Blu-ray single disc formats in a pristine transfer that allows fans to revisit the sumptuous design detail as well as the exceptional Emmy-nominated performances by co-leads Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as, respectively, Liberace and Thorson. Despite the sensitive nature of the material, which includes a couple of fairly graphic same-sex love scenes, both actors really throw themselves into their roles with a commitment that is both fearless and ego-free.
“You forget about us (as actors) pretty quickly,” Douglas comments in The Making of Behind the Candelabra, a 14-minute behind-the-scenes extra included with the set. “And you pretty quickly also forget it’s two guys. You’re just watching (a film) about a relationship.” The short documentary also includes several pieces of production trivia, such as the fact that the exterior of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s residence in Los Angeles stood in for Liberace’s Las Vegas mansion.
The large supporting cast also includes fellow Emmy nominee Scott Bakula, along with Rob Lowe, Cheyenne Jackson, Dan Aykroyd and a virtually unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds in a memorable cameo as Liberace’s mother. Soderbergh and screenwriter Richard LaGravanese also scored Emmy nods, and the film itself is up for the outstanding movie or miniseries trophy.
If Behind the Candelabra is largely about capturing the glitzy, over-the-top extravagance of Liberace’s world, Parade’s End, another recent HBO Home Entertainment release on two discs, charts the repressed but explosive World War I triangle encompassing an English aristocrat and the two women who love him. Superstar-in-the-making Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as Christopher Tietjens, a morally upright chap who is seduced into marrying pregnant socialite Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) even though there’s a very good chance the baby isn’t his. Bored and restless, Sylvia is aghast that her husband is too decent to be angry about her infidelity, and she treats Christopher pretty abominably over the course of the five-part miniseries.
Both Hall and Cumberbatch, who earned an Emmy nomination for his performance, are so good and deliver such multifaceted performances that they keep you switching allegiances as you watch this catastrophic couple clash again and again. Newcomer Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby) also stars as Valentine Wannop, a suffragette who loves Christopher but must endure a chaste relationship with him, since he’s too nice a guy to divorce his wife. The strong cast also includes former Oscar nominees Janet McTeer and Miranda Richardson.
The only extra in the set is, somewhat oddly, a half-hour radio interview between screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), who earned an Emmy nod for his work, and film critic Elvis Mitchell. Not surprisingly, Stoppard has a lot of fascinating stuff to say about adapting the four 1920s-era novels by Ford Madox Ford that form the basis of the miniseries, but Mitchell more than holds his own in this cerebral chatfest, demonstrating a capacious grasp of both Ford’s novels and Stoppard’s own plays. In fact, at one point, Stoppard stops to tell Mitchell, “I haven’t been interviewed by a man so well briefed for about 40 years.” If you’re up for a challenging but very rewarding drama, I highly recommend this set.
Parade's End