Category Archives: TV

From BuzzFeed: A Pakistani Points Out Six Homeland Fails

homeland season 4 poster

I’ve already mentioned my frustration with Homeland in an earlier post. Now BuzzFeed is doing the same with the help of Pakistani activist, lawyer, and independent politician Mohammad Jibran Nasir. Given his experiences and pedigree, Nasir is able to pinpoint all that is wrong ranging from the ill-researched (language,clothing) to the downright offensive (naming the big bad after the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S.).

When you depict/reference other cultures in your programming, you owe them the due process of accurate portrayal. In fact, such flaws demote the overall quality of an otherwise well-written show.

Judging by the video, Nasir only viewed the two-part season 4 opener. Things remained checkered at best further down the season. Durban was in no way a suitable stand-in for Islamabad. Ayaan’s girlfriend not only struggled with legible Urdu, but her ‘accented’ English had the most peculiar lilt to it. Conversely, props to Nimrat Kaur who played ISI agent Tasneem Qureishi brilliantly, for getting the performance AND the language down pat.

P.S. Check out Mohammad Jibran Nasir’s initiative NeverForgetPakistan.com

Really Deadline?

Empire

Deadline has stooped to Alessandra Stanley-an lows with a horrible new piece by Nellie Andreeva implying that the increase in diverse casting for Pilot Season is possibly a bad thing because A) It means that actors of color will steal opportunities away from White actors out of “tokenism” and B) Too much diversity might be too much too soon (Over 70 years of TV can’t be ‘soon’ though).

Problem is that is most people STILL have a superficial understanding of diversity casting and what it means. Most (predominantly White) decision-makers see it as a business model rather than a way to view a wider range of stories and perspectives.

I still feel that a big way to bring the change on-camera is by diversifying voices BEHIND it. More writers, producers, directors, execs of color will make stronger decisions, and those decisions will stick. After The Cosby Show, rip-off sitcoms about Black families were tested for about three TV seasons after which the motif was abandoned because it wasn’t working. What DID work was A Different World, which told a different story despite being a Cosby spinoff. And back in 2002 when Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars in the same year, there was a brief increase in roles for Black actors, but cast mostly in those two not-so-positive molds.

The fact that this season’s breakout hits include Empire, Fresh Off The Boat, and Jane The Virgin as well as other shows with diverse casts speaks volumes about what people want to see as opposed to what Andreeva and some others think they want to see. Next fall will see television being the most diverse it has ever been, and Deadline should know that by writing this, they are causing potential damage and regression.

The article’s ‘These People’ POV has drawn the social media ire and rightfully so:

These tweets sum up a LOT of what I, and I’m sure a lot of others feel. And here’s the nonsensical article that’s been inducing some serious cringe:
http://deadline.com/2015/03/tv-pilots-ethnic-casting-trend-backlash-1201386511/

Television Academy’s New Rules – WHY?

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This has got to be a conspiracy. Folks sitting up high in ‘creative’ fields seem to have a huge problem with creativity itself! I’m referring to the brand new set of rule changes the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences just announced.

All those dramedies you love? The ones making TV so worthwhile today? Shameless? Orange Is The New Black? You can stop calling them funny because they’re officially ineligible for Comedy Series (jeez if you want Modern Family to win that bad, just say so!). The category will now accept shows that only clock in at 30 minutes. Jane The Virgin, which is most definitely a comedy MIGHT get in if a special case is petitioned. The other two shows can still compete in Drama Series, which is being expanded to seven categories because that race wasn’t crowded enough already.

Also smaller serialized dramas like Sherlock? You’ve probably seen the last of them because they don’t qualify for “Limited Series”, the new name given to the Mini-Series category. The category states that the series should have “no ongoing story lines or main characters” in subsequent seasons. That’s right, AHS: Freak Show kinda shot themselves in the foot by connecting two universes through Pepper and Sister Mary Eunice.

The Guest Acting rules now require that a performer must appear in less than 50% of the program’s episodes. The big losers here of course are the OITNB ladies that scored three nods (and a win) in Guest Actress last year. Looks like amazing recurring turns this season by Lorraine Toussaint, Samira Wiley, Yael Stone, Selenis Leyva, and Alysia Reiner officially just went to waste. Meanwhile SNL guest hosts and name-value cameos get to keep their free passes.

I know what you’re thinking, even I used to think rules are changed and revised to make things better.

TV: The New Shows So Far Part 2

Survivor’s Remorse: LeBron James ventured into producing television and surprisingly delivered with a show that’s just as impressive if his name is removed (it shouldn’t be removed though!). Mike O’Malley wrote some of Shameless‘ most applauded episodes and he knows how to be a deft showrunner here, carrying over his skill with dark humor. The Entourage comparisons are inevitable, this too centers on a rising star and his support system, albeit in pro basketball. But something is different, this one is lacks the ironic shallowness of Entourage, replacing it smartly with emotions. On the looks of it, things will get even better as the season progresses, and who knows, perhaps LeBron could Mark Wahlberg his way into some behind-the-scenes success too.

Happyland: MTV’s scripted programming shot up miles in quality once Mina Lefevre of ABC Family came on board. Finding Carter and Faking It are both home runs, this one isn’t quite there, yet. It’s definitely interesting, the premise is original, albeit on the network being tentpoled by the steamy Teen Wolf, it might struggle to fit in. But I really hope it does, a talented young cast of actors mostly known from youth-oriented shows is doing a decent job and a seemingly happy setup carries a twisted unknown incest storyline at the center (the lead couple are half-siblings and don’t know it). The humor is surprisingly not bland, but it’s still not as clever as it has the potential to be. Again, it’s different in a good way, let’s hope it does well.

Kingdom: This is just too good. It’s set in the gritty world of MMA fighting, yet at the core it’s a touching tale of a broken family. The handheld camerawork and Venice, CA scenery are unique compliments to each other. There’s definitely a hint of Friday Night Lights in the realism, a dash of Sons Of Anarchy in the interactions, and a heavy dose of both in the inner turmoil of all the characters. The casting is a stroke of genius, whoever recommended Nick Jonas for a part nobody could have seen him in a few years ago deserves a raise. The breakout star however could be Jonathan Tucker who plays Jonas’ down-on-his-luck brother. The pilot succeeds in setting up just about enough to keep the audience coming back. Bonus points for an amazing soundtrack that includes Deer Tick’s Dylan-esque 20 Miles!

The Flash: Marvel might rule the roost with motion pictures but looks like DC Comics is marking their territory on television. This character comes to us spun off from Arrow (though there was a short-lived televised version in the early 90’s) but the smartest thing Greg Berlanti/Andrew Kriesberg/Geoff Johns did here is that they made this new show very unlike the older one, or any of today’s flawed hero types for that matter. Despite getting his powers accidentally, Barry aka The Flash actually enjoys having them. There’s no brooding or pent-up anger, but lot’s of positivity and confidence. There are definitely traces of a Tobey Maguire-era Spiderman, a clumsy science wiz into his female best friend, but minus that annoying gee-whiz stare. Grant Gustin is one impressive leading man with screen presence for days. He’s all but guaranteed to carry this show to success. The icing on the cake are Tom Cavanaugh and Jess L. Martin in deliciously meaty parts. This will join Arrow up there in popularity.

Jane The Virgin: If you missed Ugly Betty on your small screens, this dramedy is for you. Adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela, it still manifests that signature melodrama, but with a nudge and a wink. There’s also cheeky voiceover by Anthony Mendez. The main premise is farfetched, how often do you go in for a pap-smear and get inseminated instead? That too with the sperm belonging to the married guy you had a crush on. On top of that, imagine you had taken a vow to remain a virgin until marriage. Oh, and that guy had cancer and that sperm was his last chance to become a father. You can either drown in the shock and horror or you can deem it some form of divine intervention. Okay, enough with the negative, once you do move past that, it’s not all that bad. The authentic Miami flavor is fun but punctuated too strongly with Reggaeton/Pop Latino thumping in the background. Speaking of Ugly Betty, Gina Rodriguez possesses that same charm that made us all fall in love with America Ferrera, and she alone is worth tuning in for.

The Affair: This one had me at ‘Fiona Apple did the opening theme song’, and what a lovely unconventional theme song it is! The show’s name sounds like it’s giving too much way, yes it is about an affair between two married people, but creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi (In Treatment) add brilliant complexities to it,complete with character development and dialog that is top-notch. It doesn’t play out as a scandalous soap about philandering in the dark, but rather an analysis of how marriage and fidelity might impact different people. After numerous thankless turns post-The Wire, Dominic West finally gets a role worth his salt where he holds his own against Joshua Jackson and his on-screen wife, the incomparable Maura Tierney. Equally enthralling is Ruth Wilson as the other half of the titular indiscretion. Shades of Mike Nichols’ Closer are evident, but not overpowering, this show has its own caustic tone that shines through.

Cristela: In a world of genre-bending hybrids, this show is a mulit-cam setup. The premise is classic ‘Stand-up comic transitioning to tv’. But despite what could be seen as pitfalls, this show works! Cristela Alonzo has a gift, her writing pokes harmless fun at her culture but never tries for an offensive cheap laugh (except for her boss who is SUPPOSED to be kinda racist). In fact, a huge part of the story is how this young woman embraces her two cultures, a Mexican heritage and American upbringing, despite struggling to fit into either one at times. Alonzo’s performance is a rarity for stand-ups, she’s immediately at home without a mic in her hand. Facial distortions added to line delivery can get downright irritating after a while, think of characters in any sitcom that was on for years. But the way Cristela does it is sweet and endearing a la Mindy Cohn in The Facts of Life. The situations and humor have that old-timey charm that worked so well for Melissa & Joey and Hot In Cleveland. And it’s funny, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, with a talented supporting cast to boot. It’s the underdog of the pilot season for sure, but the type that could sneak its way to the top.

Olive Kitteridge: Can We Give Lisa Cholodenko An Award Already???

Olive Kitteridge

If you’re anything like me, you were disappointed when Lisa Cholodenko’s was snubbed out of a Directing Oscar nomination for The Kids Are All Right in 2011 (In the same year, Debra Granik was shut out for Winter’s Bone and that upset me equally)The film did land Best Picture and Original Screenplay nods, as well as recognition for its stars, but Cholodenko was so crucial to the film being made the way it was, it just didn’t feel right to silence her auteur-like voice.

Not to make anyone an unnecessary villain, but on the other hand, there’s this cultish admiration for David Fincher. I never got The Social Network, nor did I get the praise heaped upon it. He got nominated but neither Cholodenko nor Granik got that honor. It will most likely happen again this awards season when he becomes a shoo-in for Gone Girl but Ava DuVernay will be a long shot for Selma despite the rave reviews. It’s equally noteworthy that post Kathryn Bigelow’s 2010 win for The Hurt Locker, no woman has been nominated, not even Bigelow again for the acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty.

Cut to today. A significant change in the TV landscape has been the revival of the miniseries(or ‘limited series’ or ‘event series’ based on what works for your brand). The Emmys went back to splitting the miniseries and TV movie categories this year, simply because the number of such programming is increasing vastly. Whether it’s based on the success of similar British formats or the anthology nature of American Horror Story, people are finding themselves invested in smaller episodic runs.

The tide is high, and riding the wave soon will be Olive Kitteridge, an adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-winning novel. Much like Top Of The Lake and Fargo, it’s set in a mellow coastal town with interconnected stories. Starring Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, John Gallagher Jr., Rosemarie DeWitt, Zoe Kazan,and Bill Murray, it premieres this November on HBO. Helmed by? None other than Lisa Cholodenko herself. It’s her first major attempt since Kids and based on the previews and hype, it’s set to be a great viewing experience.

Given what happened this year, the Emmys have their own wrongs to right, a dubious voting system that seems – arguably- broken. As a result, an oligopoly of winners just keeps on winning. The miniseries category is luckily immune to this disadvantage. I for one can’t wait for Olive Kitteridge, it will air in four parts over the span of two weeks. HBO struck miniseries gold with Angels In America and John Adams, this could be headed in the same direction.

Homeland and Its Constant Misrepresentation of Foreign Cultures.

http://www.movieweb.com/tv/TVNmUkp89AjhQU/season-4-trailer-4

Homeland is an Emmy-winning smash hit, I get that. The pace of the writing is ever-dynamic (save for the middle of Season 3 of course). The he show has a ‘murderers’ row’ of writers according to critics. They include names with The X-Files, 24, Chicago Hope, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Cold Case under their belts. Here’s the problem: Homeland is also grossly inaccurate when depicting foreign cultures. The show is at a creative crossroads. At the end of Season 3, they closed a chapter that was crucial to the original premise. They had written themselves into a corner and couldn’t keep the momentum going. After critical derision and angry viewer tweets, the only plausible way out was to hit the reboot button. This lead to the extreme measure of killing off Brody and writing out his entire family. If only they had applied this philosophy of change to their fact-checking.

Now 24 came immediately after 9/11 and was about a counter-terrorist unit, so seeing a gazillion Arab actors playing variants of ‘Turban and kurta wearing bearded boorish terrorist’ and ‘Clean-shaven suit wearing sophisticate who is secretly also a terrorist’ was still mildly acceptable. At this point though, it’s a painfully cliched action series trope that’s perpetuating a horrible stereotype. There’s enough material to fill another Jack Shaheen book. It’s not that Homeland doesn’t get intricate details right, even the basic facts are wrong. On watching the show’s first few episodes, a friend and I shared laughs over Brody’s ‘prayer’. Seriously, what was that? They had clearly never observed a Muslim prayer before, they came up with a random series of kneels and bends while Brody muttered something in Arabic. And it all went downhill from there.

Laura Durkay got so much of it right in her piece for the Washington Post. A highly experienced team of writers and producers can’t bother to do their research well enough, that is if they do any research at all. From mispronounced names to false imagery of cities. The real Beirut is a vibrant metropolis that marries the traditional with the modern. The Beirut in Homeland is some war-ravaged shantytown where women have to veil themselves while walking on the streets. Granted that SOME Lebanese women do wear the veil as a PERSONAL CHOICE, some don’t. And in a country as religiously diverse as Lebanon, it doesn’t even matter. And where do you even begin with Iran, Syria, and Palestine? These places are so much more than Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.  The ideologies of one radical group should not be the umbrella they think an entire nation takes shade under.

This season shifts focus towards Pakistan. To be fair, there’s SOME improvement. Despite political turmoil, the one thing Pakistan isn’t is stuck in the Dark Ages, and luckily, that’s visible. You do see a technologically and educationally forward nation with young intellectuals. But still, many things are out of place. Do The Powers That Be even know that Pakistan is NOT a Middle Eastern country? You see traces of Arabic cultures everywhere instead of South Asian ones, which should logically be more predominant. So no, there wouldn’t be hookah bars around the corners, and people would not have conversations over cups of black tea. South Asians overwhelmingly prefer ‘dudh pati’, which is a strong tea brewed in milk and sometimes laced with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, or ginger. You would not see a study group not drink that instead over an exchange of ideas.

When it comes to the language, it’s pretty clear they didn’t look beyond Google Translate. In the scene where Ayaan wakes up post-attack to a woman washing his wounds, the Urdu spoken is too formal and literal  while the woman’s delivery is as if she’s reciting a 1800’s poem. It makes the scene too melodramatic where it needs to be tense, and a more realistic situation would use more casual language. When a bustling marketplace in Islamabad is shown (more backwoods than urban obviously), you hear gibberish in the atmosphere, passersby are mumbling words that are a strange mix of Urdu, Pashto, and Arabic.

Believe me, I’m all for the idea of actors playing characters that are not from where they are but are ethnically similar. For example, there are countless Canadian, British, and Australian actors playing Americans on-screen (with most doing a commendable job). Here too, you have mostly Indian actors portraying Pakistanis. However, some nuances just aren’t there. If you saw Life Of Pi, you know that Suraj Sharma is very talented, and has that quiet melancholy that pulls you in. But the accent with which he speaks English has that distinct South Indian tinge you would just not hear on an Islamabadi.

Call me nitpicky, but if they get these details right, it only succeeds in making their good show better. At the same time, they are in a position to rehabilitate an image rather than reinforce it, but they refuse to. Homeland co-creator Howard Gordon is choosing to stick to the Big Bad Middle East version. His new show Tyrant launched this past summer and focuses on, as the name implies, a dictator in a fictional Middle Eastern nation (because why not?) and his US-based extended family. It takes the stereotyping up a notch or two. The fact that the country isn’t real allows him to add any exaggerated detail he wants to. At least this time around he got called out for it with bad reviews.

TV: The New Shows So Far.

A whole bunch of new tv shows are upon us. Perennially in the need for new entertainment, I’ve been viewing various pilots, seeing how they are, what they could work on, or whether or not they would succeed. Here’s the verdict so far (only what I have seen):

Red Band Society: Great premise but way too mawkish. Although the kids are all great,  Leo, has lush, thick eyebrows while undergoing chemotherapy. How? Clearly, research needs to be done there. Post TFIOS, sick children is sort of becoming a tearjerker way of pandering, but such subject matter needs to be dealt with carefully. Octavia Spencer is brilliant but both she and Dave Annable need more material, they sort of get relegated to B-storyline status amid all the teen drama. It needs a few quick fixes,but definitely worth coming back for more episodes.

The Mysteries Of Laura: I’m all for a different tone, but this show doesn’t pull it off. In fact, it seems confused about what tone it wants to project, is it a quirky comedy or a dark one? Relies too heavily on Debra Messing and her “Woman in a Rom Com” antics. Actually, a lot of this show seems like a rom com, complete with that career woman balancing love, children, and work while being pined for by rom com-ready guys.

Madam Secretary: Finally, Tea Leoni front and center in something! You want it to go The Good Wife route, charged with intrigue and drama. Leoni definitely has the chops to pull it off. However, it gets too dry at moments, some scenes linger for too long without a build-up. Overall, it’s pretty good, just needs to not get too stagnant. Barbara Hall is a brilliant writer so I’m sure she’ll figure a way out of it.

Scorpion: A procedural for the tech generation, that’s clearly how they pitched this one. But it doesn’t work. The characters are too cardboard cutout, at times trying too hard with the “Look, I’m a hacker” vibe. Elyes Gabel is a commanding lead though, to the point that you feel he deserves better, and so does poor Katharine McPhee.

Gotham: WOW! This could’ve been so misguided, so boring, so cluttered. It’s none of that. Bruno Heller & Co. have done a great job with the pace and the dark tone that never comes across as trying to ape Christopher Nolan’s film franchise. The performances are spectacular, Ben McKenzie is at a career best, Robin Lord Taylor and David Mazouz are stars in the making, and Jada Pinkett-Smith is simply a force of nature, stealing every scene she’s in. Danny Cannon’s highly experienced in the action/adventure. He directed some of Nikita’s best episodes and he definitely doesn’t disappoint here either. A possible breakout hit.

How To Get Away With Murder: This one’s the surefire breakout hit. It has the easy position of boasting the Shondaland label and having THE Viola Davis as a lead, but luckily, it never rests on those laurels. Davis is very much a showstealer with her presence and performance, but the rest of the younger cast is equally endearing and each one holds their own excellently. The plot, oh the plot, you’re hooked from the get-go. Like previous Shondaland hits Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, this show combines overarching season-long plot with a case-of-the-week on the side. Creator Peter Nowalk is an experienced member of Shonda Rhimes’ writing staff, so it’s no surprise he used this device perfectly when making his own show. The pilot’s director Michael Offer needs to be the next in-demand name for future pilot seasons because he seems to have a gift.

NCIS: New Orleans: Was another one really necessary? This brings nothing great to the table. Yes there’s New Orleans imagery, and Scott Bakula, and an underused CCH Pounder, but nothing else.

Black-ish: I wasn’t sure if this would be something a post-racial audience wants to see. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It has a very clever take on institutionalized racism and how cultural appropriation changes from generation to generation. It handles its subject matter in a way that’s never heavy-handed. It does fall prey to one tired sitcom trope though: The obnoxious man-child husband and his nagging high-strung wife. That’s not to say that Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross don’t do a great job because they do.

Selfie: That name alone is cringeworthy. So is the Pygmalion-inspired premise. This could easily be dismissed for being another instance of an older man telling a younger woman how to live her life but there’s more. You know those annoying articles about Millennials, the ones that are all “Look at these young people” as if we’re a weird alien species that’s too self-absorbed and doesn’t play by their rules? This is the comedy version of that. Everything is soooooooo exaggerated in a “This is what kids are doing nowadays” manner. Do any of us Millennials with a functioning brain (the vast majority) not realize that our thousands of Instagram followers are not the same as our few close friends? It breaks my heart because of how much I love both John Cho and Karen Gillan, but this does nothing for them.

Manhattan Love Story: At least 10 years too late to the small screen. Every cliche character trope from the countless romantic comedies about young singles living where else but in Manhattan, is rolled into one show. The gender differences don’t seem humorous here, they just seem pigeonholing and at times even offensive. Women are always too emotional, men are always too horny.The two worlds don’t understand each other. Let’s have another piece of entertainment indoctrinate the same set of stereotypes in our minds yet again. Who thought this was a good idea? Did they come via time machine from 1989? (The year Harry met Sally).

A to Z: Read the above. Swap the internal monologues with whirlwind sexual encounters. This one does feature voiceover from the flawless Katey Sagal, but the novelty ends there.

Marry Me: Read the above yet again, because that couple is now in their mid-late 30’s and is trying to get married, how else but one mishap at a time.

Stalker: When Kevin Williamson tried crime procedurals with The Following, it was a huge letdown (but still worth watching from time to time for a Kevin Bacon dose). He redeems himself with Stalker! Very well executed, and Liz Friedlander is beyond underrated as a director. It refreshingly captures the West Coast setting far better than most shows, and stars my future wife Maggie Q and my dude crush Dylan McDermott as co-leads with chemistry so good, it’s Fillion/Katic intense!

Bad Judge: Much like “Laura” above, this show seems confused about its tone. It’s actually a disappointment for the most part. You really really want it to be good but it just isn’t. There are some redeeming points, the story arc with Kate Walsh and the kid is quite touching, but then it feels out of place with where the rest of the show is going. Hopefully the writers can pull together the structure in time.

More new shows will be reviewed as they air.