Friday November 16, 2018

HBO premieres My Brilliant Friend on Sunday. More below.

Showtime premieres Escape at Dannemora on Sunday as well. More below.

A&E premieres The Clinton Affair on Sunday. Hopefully this is the last we’ll ever see of Monica Lewinsky.

Sunday also marks the season finale of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.

Hee Haw’s Roy Clark has passed away. He was 85.

JWoww and Roger are attempting to reconcile. Hurrah!

Ted Danson is great.

A new season of MTV’s Ex On The Beach premieres on December 20.

Kumail Nanjiani will join the cast of the new CBS All Access original series, The Twilight Zone

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration must at least temporarily reinstate CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s hard pass, delivering a victory to the network and other news organizations. The judge, Trump appointee Timothy J. Kelly, granted CNN’s request for a temporary restraining order to restore Acosta’s access. Following a contentious, post-midterm press conference on Nov. 7, Acosta’s hard pass was pulled. The White House initially claimed that it was because he put his hands on a staffer as she tried to grab a microphone from him. Acosta denied that, and video of the incident shows only that his hand inadvertently touched her arm as she tried to get the mic. In a filing on Wednesday, the Trump administration said they had a compelling reason to pull his pass — that he had disrupted the press event after refusing to yield the floor to another reporter. CNN argued that Acosta’s pass was pulled because of Trump’s animosity toward him and the network’s coverage, an arbitrary decision in violation of the first and fifth amendments. They also said the administration failed to give Acosta a written explanation for the decision and an opportunity to rebut, something that was required by court precedent.”

Animal Planet is teaming up with YouTube star, animal expert and adventurer Coyote Peterson for a new longform series featuring wild expeditions and rare up-close animal experiences. The series, which will premiere on Animal Planet in 2019, is intended to appeal to Peterson's Coyote Pack — as his fans are dubbed — as well as Animal Planet's global audience. Peterson, who is passionate about wildlife education and serves as host of the Brave Wilderness channel on YouTube (with 13 million subscribers), takes a close look at the animal kingdom in an entertaining way while promoting compassion and welfare for the natural world. For his Animal Planet series, Coyote will travel to all new destinations and share his experiences with the most fascinating, bizarre and iconic animals on earth. Along with his crew, which includes director Mark Vins and wildlife biologist Mario Aldecoa, they will share their breathtaking adventures.”

“Danny DeVito, Jessica Chastain and Doctor Who’s Jodie Whittaker are to star in the new season of Jamie Oliver’s Friday Night Feast. The series returns to Channel 4 for a sixth season with celebrity chef Oliver and his friend Jimmy Doherty cooking up a feast for pals at a pop-up café at the end of Southend Pier. In addition to the trio, guests include Sir Patrick Stewart, Black Panther actor Martin Freeman, Stephen Fry, Episodes’ Stephen Mangan, Harry Hill, Russell Howard, Romesh Ranganathan and Olympian Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill. With It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia star DeVito, the pair go back to his roots in Basilicata, where his grandparents came from, with food cooked from the town his family came from. Oliver said, ‘He’s a Hollywood legend and he came especially to see us – at the end of Southend Pier, two hours out of London, for a six-hour filming. That isn’t normal. On Jonathan Ross, you can get in and out in two hours, so our show is a major time commitment. But people come because they like what we do and they love food. Danny calls everyone baby – “hey baby, thanks baby.”’”

Sean Cohan will leave A+E Networks, where he serves as president of international and digital media, to run Brent Montgomery’s Wheelhouse Entertainment as president. Cohan will remain with A+E Networks through the end of 2018 to manage a smooth transition for the company and its global leadership team. He will officially join Wheelhouse Entertainment in late January 2019.”

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Per Rolling Stone, “Richard Matt and David Sweat’s 2015 upstate New York prison break was compared to The Shawshank Redemption because the duo cut through the walls of their cells and took a long tunnel to freedom. But if their methods were cinematic, their personalities — and that of Joyce ‘Tilly’ Mitchell, the prison employee who helped them — were far from it, which presents a stumbling block for Showtime’s otherwise entertaining Escape at Dannemora. The seven-part miniseries — it debuts on Nov. 18th — has abundant talent in front of the camera and behind it. Benicio Del Toro, Paul Dano and Patricia Arquette play, respectively, Matt, Sweat and Tilly, and Ben Stiller directs each installment. Their gifts are put to good use throughout, but in service of characters who never quite justify the time devoted to them.

“Primarily written by Ray Donovan alums Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, and largely shot in the town of Dannemora (including some sequences inside Clinton Correctional Facility, where the real-life escape took place), the series follows the patient approach of Matt. He’s a lifer nicknamed “Hacksaw,” for squirm-inducing reasons that are eventually explained, but has set himself up like Red in Shawshank: the man who knows how to get things. He and Sweat toil together in the prison tailor shop, where Tilly works as a civilian supervisor whose storage room hook-ups with Sweat are an open secret to the other inmates and even the guards, who keep trying to alert her slack-jawed, blindly loyal husband Lyle (Eric Lange), to no avail. Matt is both a model inmate and a gifted amateur painter who does favors for guard Gene Palmer (David Morse) in exchange for special treatment. When Palmer inadvertently helps Matt realize that his cell and Sweat’s are adjacent to an unattended path to the bowels of the prison, the two begin working Tilly for supplies and other assistance with their getaway.

“Prison breaks, like heists, almost always lend themselves to a lively filmed treatment, and this one is no exception. The portions of the series about exactly how the two cons are getting out are fun, particularly a near Better Call Saul-level montage in the third episode contrasting work in the tailor shop with their methodical cutting of their cell walls, and a sustained take in the fifth episode where Sweat takes a practice run through their escape route.

“Stiller has almost exclusively directed comedy before now, but he has impressive command of this darker world, clearly laying out both the physical and emotional geography of the prison. And he gets a trio of outstanding and compulsively watchable performances out of his leads. Del Toro is all pent-up energy and oblique angles, like he’s starring in a version of The Usual Suspects where his Fenster is now the main character. It’s a delightfully (if predictably) strange collection of choices from him. Dano has the trickier role, as Sweat is quiet where Matt is gregarious. But his intensely still physical presence is striking, whether he’s inside the prison, trying not to be noticed, or outside its walls, where he proves to be the more capable fugitive.

“Arquette, meanwhile, leaves any pretense of vanity behind as Tilly. She sports stringy hair, oversized glasses that are 30 years out of date and a discolored, crooked smile. And the camera is conscious of every exposed pore on her face and every inch of cellulite peaking out of her cheap and ill-fitting clothes (she gained 40 pounds for the role). The performance is as ugly as the wardrobe and makeup, painting Tilly as a shameless, childish manipulator whose spell only works on the extremely slow like Lyle, or a man who has no other options like Sweat.

“The series treats Tilly as a grotesque for whom it mostly has contempt (and Lyle as one for whom the filmmakers feel some pity, but not a lot). It’s a consistent vision of her character, but not one built to sustain seven-odd hours of television, especially when the two cons are painted with only the broadest of brushstrokes Richard Matt might deploy. The performances invest all three leads with more life than is there on the page (or that Johnson and Tolkin could find in their research), which becomes a problem the longer we have to spend in their company.

“The Shawshank Redemption is memorable for the methods Andy Dufresne uses to get out of his cell, but more for his friendship with Red and the other cons — and it’s still only about a third as long as Escape at Dannemora. The actors and Stiller’s direction keep Dannemora mostly interesting despite how thin the characters are, but you can’t help wishing their skills had been applied to a more fundamentally compelling story.”

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Per The Hollywood Reporter, “Netflix has picked up an animated series chronicling a World War II infantry regiment's journey across Europe, leading to the liberation of a German concentration camp.

“The Liberator comes from Die Hard and The Fugitive screenwriter Jeb Stuart, A+E Studios and Unique Features and is based on a book of the same name by Alex Kershaw. It tells the story of U.S. Army officer Felix Sparks and the 157th Infantry Regiment of Oklahoma, a National Guard unit that was almost continuously engaged in battle for 500 days, from the invasion of Sicily in 1943 to the liberation of the Dachau camp in April 1945.

“The pickup adds to Netflix's roster of animated series. Though The Liberator comes form an outside provider, the streaming giant is launching its own in-house animation studio to fuel the explosion in animated content aimed at adults.

“The four-part series will be produced with a hybrid animation process called Trioscope, a new technology that blends CGI and live-action performance. (Concept art for the series is at the top of this post.)

“Grzegorz Jonkajtys (Pan's Labyrinth, The Revenant) developed Trioscope with L.C. Crowley of the animation studio School of Humans. Both are executive producers on the project, and Jonkajtys will direct all four episodes.

“The Liberator was initially developed for History Channel, a corporate sibling of A+E Studios. It is the first project from the studio to land at Netflix.

“Along with Stuart, Jonkajtys and Crowley, executive producers include Bob Shaye, Michael Lynne and Sarah Victor of Unique Features; Brandon Barr and Mark Apen of School of Humans; and Barry Jossen of A+E Studios. Author Kershaw is a co-producer.”

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Per TheWrap, “[a]ttention Earthlings: Syfy has ordered its first original late-night series, Alien News Desk. Starring Will Forte and Heidi Gardner, the comedy comes with a very heavy SNL pedigree.

Alien News Desk is a weekly, half-hour topical animated series set in an extraterrestrial newsroom. The 12-episode series will ‘cover up-to-the-minute news and commentary about the universe’s most baffling species — the inscrutable Humans of Planet Earth,’ per Syfy.

“Forte and Gardner’s characters, Drexx Drudlarr and Tuva Van Void, respectively, are pictured above. Alien News Desk is set to premiere in 2019.

“‘The expansion into original animation and late night marks the next step in the evolution of Syfy, and builds on the successes we’ve had bringing new, younger viewers to the network,’ said Chris McCumber, president, Entertainment Networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. ‘Tackling news, politics and entertainment from the perspective of alien newscasters completely puzzled by our human ways,Alien News Desk is a fun, irreverent way to put a uniquely “Syfy” spin on the late night current affairs genre.’

Alien News Desk is produced by Broadway Video and Bento Box Entertainment. Saturday Night Live creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels serves as executive producer alongside SNL producer Erik Kenward.

Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update head writer Dennis McNicholas is executive producer and showrunner, with Scott Gairdner (Moonbeam City) as co-executive producer. Joel Kuwahara and Scott Greenberg from Bento Box Entertainment serve as executive producers. From Broadway Video, Andrew Singer serves as executive producer, with Katy Jenson as co-executive producer.”

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From EW: “I spent a happy month this year living in thrall to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, a four-part saga following two women across the back half of the 20th century. Ferrante addiction is a global pandemic, of course. Since the 2012 publication of the first volume, My Brilliant Friend, the series has sold an estimated kamillion copies in an estimated bazillion countries. Their sweep is epic, moving with mathematical precision from a particularly memorable school competition, through long days in a working class neighborhood, into great political upheavals and greater personal tragedies. In macro, the mind races for heavy comparisons: Woolf, Tolstoy, Eliot, the other Eliot. And Ferrante’s style is intimate, confessional, very funny. It has the unputdownable quality of one of those Twitter stories that used to go viral before Twitter was an all-consuming virus, a cheerful personal anecdote spiraling toward almost psychedelic rage.

“Now My Brilliant Friend has been adapted into a series, with an eight-episode debut season rolling out on HBO starting Nov. 18. (Further seasons would, theoretically, adapt the later books.) The six episodes I’ve seen are a graceful adaptation of Ferrante’s first volume, brought to life by a talented young cast of mostly unknown performers. Director Saverio Costanzo films this coming-of-age story with admirable fluency. The show can’t compete with the book for sheer hallucinatory artistry. But by the third episode, you’re successful invested in a large cast, multiple local families all blessed with what you could call a classically Catholic amount of children.

“It’s a whole community brought to fearful life. More simply, this is the story of a woman remembering her youth. We meet elderly Elena (Elisabetta De Palo) in the present-ish day. Her childhood friend Lila has just disappeared. This absence sends her back through memories of postwar Naples. Here we meet young Elena (Elisa Del Genio), a quiet and thoughtful child. She falls under the spell of Lila (Ludovica Nasti), charismatically tough in a manner her society might describe as ‘willful.’

“Costanzo films these performers on their level, letting us join these tiny beings staring upward at a strange society. There’s a dreamy quality to the first two episodes. Lila and Elena develop a fantastical understanding of the real terror lingering all around. One local powermonger looks, to the girls, like a monster out of fairy tales. Violence is a constant: husbands beating wives, fathers beating children, one man physically throwing another halfway across a street.

“An earlier generation of showbiz would’ve turned My Brilliant Friend into a movie — or, possibly, redacted the Neapolitan epic into a decade-crushing feature. Working with a writing staff that includes the mysterious Ferrante herself, Costanzo adeptly paces this long story. There’s an early misadventure where Lila and Elena set out on a long walk toward a sea, a Tom-and-Huck tall tale that builds from leisure into eerie tension. Del Genio is quite a find, her searching eyes a near-perfect expression of Book Elena’s watchful narrative gaze. (The show’s narration itself is, unfortunately, the least successful element here, shortcutting epiphanies the performers are already expressing with subtlety.) And Nasti’s a T-shirt icon of precocious toughness. Her brazen confidence makes Lila invigorating, and a bit freaky. You want to be on her side.

“The complex friendship between Elena and Lila is the titular heart of the series, but the focus expands as the series moves forward in time. Teenage Elena (now played by Margherita Mazzucco) and Lila (Gaia Girace) don’t believe in fairy-tale monsters, but that just means the horrors around them are more terribly real.

“Consider the malicious Solara brothers (Elvis Esposito and Alessio Gallo), who patrol the neighborhood in their fancy car. There’s a scene in the third episode in which they drive up to the square and forcefully convince Ada (Ulrike Migliaresi) — a girl Lila and Elena’s age — to get into the car for ‘a spin.’ It’s the visual subject of a thousand midcentury memories — the young dudes, the sweet car, the innocent girl, the ride. But Costanzo captures an essential quality of Ferrante’s fiction, a kind of weary anger, a feminist exhaustion with the cudgel of male nostalgia. Here, that sequence (with its direct implications of sexual assault) becomes a collective violation, adults looking on offering no help, the other girls aware it could’ve been them.

“It’s all even more complicated than that, of course. The teen episodes of My Brilliant Friend tap the characters’ political awakening, learning about fascists, learning about communists, understanding what it means to be working-class. And then there are the everyday matters of being young: romance, school, ambitions to change the world. Lila seems to be a child prodigy, but her parents need her to work alongside her older brother, Rino (Gennaro De Stefano), in her father’s shoe store. Elena’s studies continue, and carry her in unexpected directions: The series maintains the book’s pinpoint fixation on her education, with Latin test scores as a key subplot.

“Both roles are tricky. Girace shines as Lila. There’s a rawness to her performance that reminds me of the younger days of Toshiro Mifune, that daring willingness to play fierce confidence on the edge of parody. Mazzucco has to play a more internal, anxiously adolescent Elena. It took a few hours, but I grooved onto her energy. Her performance reminds you that most teen introverts spend their waking life simmering with rage at their own shyness. Teenage Elena, man, sono io.

“Around the lead characters, we start to see a whole generation come of age. I mean it as a compliment when I say that My Brilliant Friend is the year’s best teen drama, drawing you into the lives, loves, and struggles of a group of children cusping on adulthood. A swooning dance sequence sparks a local love quadrangle. An island getaway becomes the stage for an endearingly nerdish flirtation — which gives way to an almost unbearable sequence of bedroom horror. A rooftop fireworks celebration sparkles with all the innocent possibilities of youth. Enemies become friends, maybe more, or maybe not. There’s a stretch when the main narrative engine is watching Lila juggle various suitors, the stuff of romcom subplots and internet fandoms. You watch with fascination — and with horror. My Brilliant Friend is very fun, but it’s also a vivid depiction of history as a nightmare from which two women are trying to awake.”