Jennifer Keishin Armstrong notes the parallels between the fictional world of Mad Men and the behind-the-scenes stories behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Tom Shales looks at "Carson on TCM," a weekly series of shows culling great Carson interviews.
Roughly five months ago, back in the summer of '12, the spectacularly popular Robin Roberts, co-anchor of ABC's "Good Morning, America," left the show for a sabbatical of indeterminate length. She might be gone for six or eight months, viewers inferred, or for a year. Or, forever.
August 15 marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the first part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history.
by Edward Copeland
Over the course of my lifetime, I've watched a lot of movies -- an old computer contained a program with an editable database of titles and allowed for the addition of new films. Back when I used that PC, my total hovered in the thousands. "The Larry Sanders Show" produced a mere 89 episodes in its six season run from 1992-1998 that began 20 years ago tonight on HBO. "I know it sounds cliché but -- honest to God -- it seems like it was just about a week ago. It's so odd that it's 20 years," Jeffrey Tambor said in a telephone interview.
Despite the vast disparity between the quantity of films I've viewed and "Larry Sanders" episodes, when I recently took part in The House Next Door's "If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot" series, I found it far easier to prune those pictures down to my ten favorites than I did when I applied the same task to "Larry Sanders" episodes. (Picking a clip or two from each show proved even more difficult as inevitably I'd want to include the entire half-hour.) Three or four episodes I knew had to be on the list, but then it got tough. I considered making a list of the best episode for each character such as the best Brian episode ("Putting the 'Gay' Back in Litigation"), the best Beverly ("Would You Do Me a Favor?"), the best Phil ("Headwriter"), etc. With all the priceless episodes centering on Hank and Artie, I imagined those two characters conceivably filling all ten spots alone.
A series that broke as much ground as "The Larry Sanders Show" deserves a grander tribute to mark the two decades since its birth than just a recounting of a handful of episodes -- and I had that intention. Unfortunately, my physical limitations and time constraints thwarted my ambitions. Rest assured though, that salute shall be forthcoming (MESSAGE TO BOB ODENKIRK: YOU STILL CAN TAKE PART NOW). As with any list, I'm certain my fellow "Larry Sanders" fans shall express outrage at my omissions (I already hear the shouts of "Where is the one with Carol Burnett and the spiders?" "No 'Hank's Sex Tape!' Hey now!"). Believe me, I'm as livid as you are and may join in the comments to give myself the thorough tongue-lashing I so richly deserve for these unforgivable exclusions. First, though, I'm going to fix myself a Salty Dog, using Artie's recipe of course. I want to be able to grab those olives, not fish for them. So, for good or ill, I submit my selections for my ten favorite episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show." Since bestowing ranks only leads to more trouble, I present these ten in chronological order:
"In that case I'll get in touch with Chic Sale." -- Groucho Marx, "Animal Crackers" (1930)
"Adam 1-3's incipient negritude will come as a pleasant surprise to his honorary Aquarium parents, Ralph Bunche and Ida Lupino." -- Firesign Theatre, "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers" (1970)
The awesomely prolific Matt Zoller Seitz (no, he's still got just the two kids, but he's been writing a lot of good stuff lately -- mostly in his capacity as the new TV columnist for Salon.com) recently asked the musical question: "When a comedy builds a lot of its identity around pop culture references, is it hastening its own irrelevance?" -- or, "Will future generations understand 'The Simpsons'?" (I think the term "ask the musical question" is a pop culture reference, but I'll be darned if I can find out where it originated.)
Matt writes of watching one of the great "Simpsons" episodes ("Krusty Gets Kancelled") with his kids and laughing at references that pre-dated their pop-cultural awareness (like, back before Arnold Schwarzenegger was a governor):
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Tina Mabry's "Mississippi Damned," an independent American production, won the Gold Hugo as the best film in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival, and added Gold Plaques for best supporting actress (Jossie Thacker) and best screenplay (Mabry). It tells the harrowing story of three black children growing up in rural Mississippi in circumstances of violence and addiction. The film's trailer and an interview with Mabry are linked at the bottom.
Kylee Russell in "Mississippi Damned"
The winner of the Audience Award, announced Friday, was "Precious" (see below). The wins came over a crowed field of competitors from all over the world, many of them with much larger budgets. The other big winner at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East awards ceremony Saturday evening was by veteran master Marco Bellocchio of Italy, who won the Silver Hugo as best director for "Vincere," the story of Mussolini's younger brother. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi won Silver Hugos as best actress and actor, and Daniele Cipri won a Gold Plaque for best cinematography.
I wasn't old enough to experience the French New Wave first hand. My introduction to the New German Cinema (Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders, et al.) was getting my mind blown by Werner Herzog's 1973 "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" when it was released in the US in 1977. The bossa nova craze was before my time, as was Elvis, but I vividly remember Beatlemania and felt that punk and grunge were mine. It's hard for me to imagine what it must be like to look back on some of the things I experienced first-hand and to approach them retroactively.
I've been thinking about this for a while -- what a pleasure it has been, for example, to see Steven Spielberg develop, having watched his TV movie "Duel" when it was first broadcast and being absolutely riveted; discovering the monstrous phenomenon of "Jaws" when it opened and created the "summer blockbuster" before we had a term for it; witnessing the remarkable suburban double-whammy of "E.T." and "Poltergeist" (in which Spielberg's presence was clearly felt) in the summer of 1982...
But what brought it to the forefront of my consciousness was this (last?) week's Entertainment Weekly cover story touting a big ol' list of 1,000 "New Classics" in film, music, theater, video games, etc. I'm not entirely sure what their definition of "classic" is meant to be, though among the terms they use to describe them are "iconic" ("Pulp Fiction"), "primal work of popular art" ("Titanic"), "quotable" ("Jerry Maguire"), "apotheosis of its genre" ("A Room With a View"), "most amazing" ("Children of Men")... and, um, "classic" ("When Harry Met Sally").
View image Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars...
"One of the most genuinely confounding films to come along in years... This is not a film occurring in an alternate or imaginary reality; rather, it is a film of no reality, that is, a picture that changes the rules of its universe strictly according to its creators' whims. Hence, the film is likely to inspire even more heavy thinking on the part of cultural theorists than 'The Matrix' did."
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"A lot of fluorescent, 7-Eleven-tinted images flash by, any of which could easily be removed or re-arranged without significantly disrupting the film's continuity, because it has none. If you can determine the spatial relationship between Speed's Mach 5 (or Mach 6) and any other race car for more than a few consecutive seconds, then good for you. As on the TV series, the pictures don't seem to move so much as repeat -- movement with no momentum."
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"'Speed Racer' is not a feature film in any conventional sense... Whatever information that passes from your retinas to your brain during 'Speed Racer' is conveyed through optical design and not so much through more traditional devices such as dialogue, narrative, performance or characterization."
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"Alas, this radicalization of film language, while certainly impressive to behold, yields heretofore un-dreamed of levels of narrative incoherence, but hey, not every experiment succeeds."
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"One of the more blatantly anti-capitalist storylines to come down the cinematic pike since, I dunno, Bertolucci's '1900.'"
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""Speed Racer" is a manufactured widget, a packaged commodity that capitalizes on an anthropomorphized cartoon of Capitalist Evil in order to sell itself and its ancillary products."
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Three of the above quotations are taken from a three-star review of "Speed Racer." The other three are from a one-and-a-half-star review. Can you tell which is which? Perhaps the tone gives something away, but the descriptions of the movie, what it does and how it works, are strikingly similar. Clearly both of these critics saw the same movie, although one found the experience less daring, less exhilarating, than the other.
"In the midst of death, we are in life, heh? ... Life goes on..." -- Paulie Walnuts, Episode 86
Meantime life outside goes on all around you. -- Bob Dylan, "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
Some will win, some will lose Some were born to sing the blues Oh, the movie never ends It goes on and on and on and on -- Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'"
Have another onion ring. Pop the first DVD of Season One into the player and press "play." "The Sopranos" is... I'm not going to say "over." Think of it as complete at last, a perfect whole. It's finished but it's not over. Life goes on.
It's not uncommon for a long-running show to get self-reflexive in its final episode: "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "St. Elsewhere," "Newhart," "Seinfeld," "Six Feet Under," to give a few famous examples. And no show has ever displayed more awareness of itself as a show than "The Sopranos." Not even "It's Garry Shandling's Show," the sitcom about being a sitcom. "The Sopranos" has always been a serial mob movie about being a serial mob movie in a culture where everybody's seen a lot of mob movies (and remakes of mob movies) and even low-level Jersey mobsters imagine themselves acting like the mobsters in the movies. And in its last seconds (which made my heart leap and had me laughing and crying at the same time), "The Sopranos" accomplished what I hoped it would, as I wrote earlier: "... I want [series creator David] Chase to come up with something I didn't anticipate, but which feels right for "The Sopranos." He's done it before. But now I'm afraid in a different way: I really, really want the ending to live up to the show."
Q. What is your take on the hype surrounding the release of "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace?" I've been eagerly anticipating this movie, but I'm worried that it may suffer from being grossly over-publicized by the time it is released. I've heard that LucasFilms and Fox have the publicity machine cranked up, with tons of product tie-ins and other promotions. I'm worried that by the time May 19th arrives, there may actually be some backlash to all of this publicity. (John Egan, Boise, Idaho)
People have been asking me if I've seen "The Critic," ABC's new animated series. Maybe they think I can identify with the hero, a critic named Jay Sherman who reviews movies on television and has certain points of similarity with Gene Siskel and me: He's bald, and he has a Pulitzer.
Jack Nicholson gets third billing in "Terms of Endearment," the heartwarming and heartbreaking new movie about 30 years in the lives of a mother and her daughter. He's billed after Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine, just as, 14 years ago, he was billed beneath Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in "Easy Rider." The uncanny thing is how Nicholson's third-billed appearances tend to haunt the memory. They're not "supporting roles," they're great and strange and funny characters who bring whole worlds into the movie with them.
Do Mary Steenburgen and Dudley Moore have romantic chemistry in the new movie "Romantic Comedy"? I think they do. Other people think they don't. On the very same day that I was writing about their wonderful chemistry, other critics were writing about how chemistry was lacking between the two of them.