Television

Alec Guinness Gets a Makeover

The classic 1980s John le Carré miniseries Smiley's People is getting the Blu-ray treatment.

Sipa via AP Images
Rex Features via AP Images O ne of the signature TV events of the 1980s comes out on Blu-ray this month. With Alec Guinness reprising his role as weary espionage panjandrum George Smiley, Smiley's People was the 1982 follow-up to the 1979 adaptation of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy— itself a television landmark, meaning the sequel had to live up to expectations of a type previously unknown in TV land. Remember, this was the Stone Age. Educated folk weren't supposed to take TV seriously. From The Six Wives of Henry VIII to the original Forsyte Saga, the rare exceptions boasted reassuringly prestigious non-television pedigrees. Even I, Claudius— the Game of Thrones of its day—had the double-barreled cachet of ancient Rome and author Robert Graves to help the culturati rationalize tuning in for Peytonus Place . Because le Carré wasn't yet in that league and Cold War spy thrillers were still vaguely disreputable, Tinker, Tailor and then Smiley's People had no such insurance...

Shonda Rhimes' Huma Abedin

AP Photo/ Donald Traill T he times are few and far between these days when news hounds and junkies—almost all devotees of Twitter—turn away from its blinking columns of information, away from the breaking story going through mitosis at the hands of a thousand bloggers and pundits, and focus their attention on the mother medium of television. A thousand ergonomic office chairs swiveled toward the boob tube late yesterday afternoon to watch the biggest boob in New York City—and that’s saying quite a bit, since I’m pretty sure Geraldo lives there—try to explain himself and his naughty texts to young women, rife with gonad selfies and the misuse of a certain Latin preposition. We all know what to expect at such press conferences. The warped tableau of the wicked—shirtsleeves and downcast eyes and fluorescent lighting and off-script rambling. Anthony Weiner’s life has turned into bread and circuses for the political masses—the fragile ego of the featherweight former congressman is ripe...

All the News that's Fit to Reprint

Todd Williamson/Invision/AP
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP T he opening scene of The Newsroom ’s second season, debuting Sunday on HBO, won’t do a hell of a lot to increase creator Aaron Sorkin’s popularity with women. Marcia Gay Harden guests as a brusque in-house attorney deposing news anchor Will McAvoy about a story the fictitious Atlantic Cable News channel blew badly—erroneously reporting that the Obama administration used nerve gas during a black-ops operation in Pakistan. “Fuck me,” our lady lawyer finally snaps, exasperated by Will’s arch banter. (She’s not alone in that feeling, believe me.) After a pause, Will—ever the gentleman—turns to the other dudes in the room. “Well, would one of you fuck Ms. Halliday, please?” he asks. You have to feel for Harden when her character is obliged to soften, smile, and concede that the joke’s on her. On this show even more than his earlier ones, or maybe just more noticeably, Sorkin tends to divide his female characters among bitches, waifs, annoying ninnies, and...

Revolution Until Imprisonment

The documentary The Revolutionary, which documents the life of Charleston native and Chinese Communist Party member Sidney Rittenberg, looks at how political zeal becomes zealotry.

Flickr/ Rosario Ingles
S idney Rittenberg's face fills the screen in a college auditorium where The Revolutionary is being shown. His eyebrows are bold brushstrokes of white above narrowed, intent eyes. His lips are firm. He has the wrinkles and gnarled neck of an old man. He does not, however, look like a man who is 90 years old, or like one battered by spending 16 of those years in solitary confinement in China for the offense, ultimately, of believing too deeply in the Party and the revolution. "If you put one drop into the long river of human history, that's immortal ... You either make a difference or you don't make a difference," Rittenberg says to the camera in his Southern gentleman's drawl. This is his credo. Outside the auditorium windows, night has fallen. Rittenberg's larger-than-life face is reflected, translucent, in the glass, as if his memory were speaking out of the darkness. "History," he says wryly, "rolled right over me." The Revolutionary , recently released, is Sidney Rittenberg's...

John Oliver's Summer Audition

Jon Stewart's summer Daily Show replacement is doing just fine—but not fine enough that he endangers the Comedy Central king's reign.

Photo by Brad Barket/PictureGroup) via AP IMAGES
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak W hat did we learn from John Oliver's debut week hosting The Daily Show? We learned that Jon Stewart is nobody's fool. Stewart may be restless enough with his long-standing gig to take the summer off playing movie director, but that doesn't mean he wants a dauphin getting funny ideas. Oliver is an ideal placeholder—skillful, amusing, adding just enough novelty that he doesn't come off as a direct imitation. But he's plainly not a guy to go rogue and seize the opportunity to make us not miss our Jon. Supposing Obama were temporarily incapacitated, could we rely on Joe Biden to resist the same siren song? Remember, the politics of showbiz aren't always that different than the real thing. That's especially true of a franchise like The Daily Show. Not only Comedy Central's flagship property, it's also the, ahem, power base Stewart has to protect until he successfully translates himself to another realm. If movies don't do it—and I'm betting they won't—he's in the...

Game of Thrones and the Problem of Unhappy Endings

AP Photo/HBO, Paul Schiraldi, File
AP Photo/HBO, Nick Briggs T hroughout America, fans of HBO's Game of Thrones slept soundly last night, or at least more soundly than they had the week before. On the finale of the series' third season (warning, spoilers ahead!), no major characters were killed and no key story lines came to an abrupt halt. But last week's episode, featuring the dramatic "Red Wedding" at which three key characters met their end—including Robb Stark, the closest thing the series had to a protagonist—generated an unusual amount of consternation and even anger among viewer, directed at the show's producers and George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which it is based. Twitter exploded with comments like "I WANT TO KILL THE WRITERS AND PRODUCERS OF GAME OF THRONES," and "I'm pissed right now. Seriously want to scream. Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin, you evil, evil man," and "YOU RUINED MY LIFE GEORGE R R MARTIN + IF YOU DIDN'T LOOK LIKE SANTA I'D PUNCH YOU IN YOUR STUPID OLD MAN FACE." There...

"Pussy Riot Secret Headquarters,” Revealed

HBO’s documentary of the Russian performance artists is a riot for punk rock lovers and politicos alike.

AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky
AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File "T hese people made all of you say it out loud," Vladimir Putin tells a foreign interviewer he's just discomfited by asking for a Russian translation of "Pussy Riot" in HBO's remarkable new doc, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, airing Monday and well worth your time. He thinks he's scoring a point against Western media's vestigial squeamishness, and he's actually got one: The New York Times might never have printed the word "Pussy" otherwise. Still, could activists ask for a better endorsement from their nemesis? "These people made all of you say it out loud" ought to be carved on a monument someday, and it won't be Putin's. Pussy Riot, you'll recall, is a Moscow-based aggregation of female performance artists whose three foremost members got arrested in February 2012. They'd disrupted services at an Orthodox cathedral with an abortive—the whole thing lasted 30 seconds—rendition of "A Punk Prayer," which summoned the Virgin Mary to feminism while slagging the...

How My 15 Minutes With Marc Maron Changed Everything

Talking politics and cracking un-wise with America's favorite over-sharer. 

AP Images/Dan Hallman
AP Images/Dan Hallman “A few years ago I was planning on killing myself in my garage, and now I’m doing the best thing I’ve ever done in my life in that same garage,” says comedian Marc Maron in the premiere episode of Maron . The eponymous new show on IFC is an extension of Maron’s real life, and the wildly successful WTF podcast that resurrected his career. Many of the plots grow out of actual experiences, from tracking down an Internet troll to dating a dominatrix. But the show probably won’t mine what Maron himself would describe as his most painful episode: hosting a liberal political talk radio show. I know this because I met Marc then, in 2006, when he was in that “planning on killing myself” phase. At the time I was performing random acts resembling stand-up comedy at laundromats and sandwich shops throughout the greater Los Angeles area, while also stepping into political writing with a new and exciting invention of the age called a blog. My comedian friends and I had a...

How the Patriarchy Screwed the Starks

How last night’s shocking deaths reveal Game of Thrones’ biggest theme

flickr/IP Anónima_ T he King In The North is dead. In Game of Thrones ' latest ridiculously daring narrative move, it killed off Robb Stark, a character who could easily have laid claim to the role of “hero” on the show. Robb was handsome, talented, and possessed of an intrinsic decency rare to find in the show's world of Westeros. He was also the son of the first season's protagonist, Ned Stark, himself killed in the big twist, which positioned Robb as a traditional fantasy hero. And unlike his rival would-be kings, Robb was motivated in an entirely positive fashion. He rebels against the crown in order to free his father. He allows himself to be crowned King In The North in order to free his people, winning battle after battle for that cause. Even his tragic mistake is motivated by the best of intentions—instead of fulfilling his lordly obligations and marrying for strategic gain, Robb chose to marry for love. For the crime of being insufficiently cynical about the world, Robb, his...

Cable News Is a Third of a Century Old

A snapshot from CNN's first hour on the air.
This Saturday marks one-third of a century since CNN debuted as the world's first 24-hour news channel in 1980 (if you're looking to get them a gift, the traditional 33rd anniversary gift is amethyst). Prospect intern/sleuth Eric Garcia came across this video of the network's first hour on the air, which begins with Ted Turner giving a speech about the new era of global understanding they're launching. He makes special note of the fact that he's standing under three flags: the U.S. flag, the Georgia flag (its old confederate version, which was adopted in 1956 as a protest to Brown v. Board of Education or to honor the nobility of the Confederacy, depending on your perspective), and ... the flag of the United Nations ! Cue conservative spit takes. Back in those days, of course, the UN was considered a well-intentioned if often ineffectual organization, and not a sinister black helicopter-wielding global conspiracy to take your guns and impose a one-world government with George Soros as...

"Arrested Development" Gets an "Elvis"

And now the story of four reporters who lost their weekend watching all of Arrested Development season four, and the Gchat conversation they had to put it all together.

AP Photo/Starpix, Marion Curtis
If you're an Arrested Development fan, chances are you spent over seven hours on the couch this weekend binge-watching the 15 new episodes that premiered on Netflix early Sunday morning. Don't worry, we did too. We had two staffers sit down in a "Something" hangout with two Mother Jones reporters to hash out the fourth season and its best moments. Warning: potential spoilers. Jaime Fuller, associate editor Ok, so Arrested Development season four! what did everyone think? Asawin Suebsaeng, reporting fellow at Mother Jones I give it an "A -". First off, to the haters: Fuck the haters, because who the hell in their right mind would be expecting this to be as good as the original run? Abby Rapoport, reporter I'm not done yet. But midway through I'd give the first episode a "B" and then everything else an "A." Tim Murphy, reporter at Mother Jones I was originally a lot more down on it. If you had me after five episodes, I would have given it a "C+" or what Maeby's school would call "Elvis...

Star Bleck

The second entry in the J.J. Abrams' reboot doesn't have the fun of the first outing, and all that's left is one more humongazoid, cluttered summer blockbuster whose gobbledygook plot just spackles over the interludes between kaboom-happy CGI set pieces.

flickr/skookums 1
Q uick quiz: which movie currently in theaters does worst by a beloved national classic, "modernizing" it in ways that violate everything people cherished about the original? If you picked Star Trek Into Darkness, let's have a beer one of these days. At least The Great Gatsby' s director, Baz Luhrman, puts his purple heart on his zircon-studded sleeve with a romantic pizzazz F. Scott Fitzgerald might approve of. From my lonesome perch, the cement-mixer racket from Gene Rodenberry's corner of the Great American Cemetery is a lot more deafening. Just so you won't misunderstand, a Trekkie I'm not. My indefensible affection for botched WW2 spectaculars apart—really, Is Paris Burning? does have its moments, folks, and I guess you had to be there as a susceptible tyke in 1966—I've never been an anything-ie, really. But I admire hell out of Rodenberry, who created the Shatner-Nimoy Star Trek almost half a century ago, for his humanism and humor. No other series as vividly evokes the liberal...

Veep's Much Improved Trash-Talking Minuet

AP Photo/HBO, Bill Gray
T he second season of Veep kicks off on Sunday with a very entertaining montage of Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia-Louis Dreyfus) on the campaign trail. She's delivering a clunker of a stump speech—"Freedom isn't 'Me-dom.' It's 'We-dom'!"—that climaxes with a peachy parody of the Anecdotal American our pols so love to describe encountering when being out on the hustings pokes a hole in their bubble. Yes, it's midterm-elections time. Selina's efforts don't stop the White House from going into meltdown mode once its Congressional majority heads into the dumpster. But she's done well enough at stanching the hemorrhage to try parlaying her success into more clout inside the administration. That puts her at loggerheads with a new nemesis: Gary Cole as hired-gun polling guru Kent Davidson, brought in to cynically shore things up à la Dick Morris after Bill Clinton's 1994 midterm drubbing. Cole is one reason this is a new and improved Veep. Starting with gaffe-prone, ambition-addled...

"Jackass" Goes Geopolitical

Vice's foray into doumentary film may make you shake your head, but you can't deny it's good television.

Vice Productions
Vice Productions HBO's new Friday-night newsmagazine, Vice —as in the uppity print-mag dudes turned YouTube stuntmasters who recently made news by sending Dennis Rodman to North Korea, not the police beat—comes on like a revved-up 60 Minutes for the tats-and-testosterone set. Trouble spots around the globe are high on the menu; either danger or the threat of it gets amped up with shameless music cues and attention-grabbing cutting. All three regular correspondents are, as may go without saying, male, with original Vice co-founder Shane Smith in the Mike Wallace Yoda slot opposite a couple of younger wiseacres: Thomas Morton, Vice 's anxiety specialist, and Ryan Duffy, the show's jaunty answer to Kid Rock. The whole thing comes to us courtesy of executive producer Bill Maher, whose contending yens to be a thoughtful guy and a hip one often remind me of a ventriloquist who hasn't caught on yet that his dummy is psychotic. All the same, any of you who still keep an Edward R. Murrow...

A Season of Swords

Game of Thrones, otherwise known as every origins story trash-compacted into the "ultimate extrapolation of Dallas," returns for its third season this Sunday.

HBO
Once again, it's that splendid time of year when we get to cast aside human decency without a backward look. Let's savor ruthless ambition, revel in permanent war, and realize we don't give two hoots about the huddled masses being ground underfoot like cigarillos for conquest's sake. Kicking off its third season on Easter Sunday, and so much for piety, HBO's Game of Thrones may be the closest that high-minded lefties will ever come to experiencing the buzz Paul Ryan feels at CPAC. Meanwhile, virtuous conservatives get to gorge guilt-free on rampant carnality and unrepentant paganism, and who says there's no such thing as common ground anymore? Try Westeros. If you can believe it, GoT has gotten even more murky and brooding this season, creating an enjoyable illusion of depth where none exists. That's even true of the latest iteration of the title sequence, which is, as ever—thanks partly to Ramin Djawadi's theme music—among the most brilliant summonses to addiction in TV history...

Pages