Wednesday January 2, 2019

Happy holidays. One thing I realized over the “break” is that for as much content as there might be out there available to watch, I still couldn’t find much to watch. A few quick notes on some things I caught up on over the holidays:

-Not that you were going to, but no reason to waste your time with YouTube Red’s Champaign Ill.

-I really loved Escape At Dennemora. More below.

-Go watch Nick Swardson, Chris D’Elia and Canadian comic Ivan Decker on Netflix series COMEDIANS of the World.

-I liked Bird Box, but it’s not something you should feel compelled to watch. 45,000,000+ have already watched this film?

-The Black Mirror choose your own adventure movie is a confusing waste of time. I would steer clear. In the event you want to dive in, you might want to read this first so you’re not as confused as I was.

-Season 3 of Stranger Things will be available to stream on July 4, 2019.

-NBC has canceled both Marlon and Midnight, Texas.

I’ve never found Tiffany Haddish to be funny. Evidently, many people agree.

Fox premieres The Masked Singer tonight. They’ve been promoting the living hell out of it. More on this one below.

Netflix has removed an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from streaming in Saudi Arabia after that country’s government complained that it showed the kingdom in a negative light. The episode focused on Saudi Arabia in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.”

An early review of season 3 of HBO’s True Detective.

Pete Davidson didn’t hold back during a killer stand-up performance at Boston’s Chevalier Theatre on Monday, December 31. The Saturday Night Live star spoke frankly about his split with Ariana Grande and took aim at disgraced comedian Louis C.K.. Davidson, 25, who wore a green jacket, baseball cap and black sweatpants, told the audience about his tattoos, explaining that after he got a Harry Potter tattoo, actor Alan Rickman, who played Professor Snape, died, and then he got a Willy Wonka tattoo and Gene Wilder, who played the character in a 1971 film, passed away. It made him think that everyone he gets a tattoo of will die. ‘So I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo of Louis C.K., what do you guys think?’ he asked the audience, prompting laughs. The former Louie star, 51, was accused of sexual misconduct in 2017 and made headlines earlier this week when he mocked the victims of the Parkland school shooting, prompting major backlash on social media. The Trainwreck star revealed that when the comedian hosted SNL for the fourth time in April 2017, during Davidson’s first year on the show, Louis C.K. ‘told all the producers in front of me that all this kid does is smoke weed and he’s gonna smoke his career away.’” And Louis ejaculated his away. . . .

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From The Hollywood Reporter: “It's been nearly 25 years since the release of Reality Bites, Ben Stiller's iconic (for a certain generation) feature directing debut. That film had a running time of 99 minutes, which coincidentally is also the length of the seventh part of Escape at Dannemora, Stiller's debut as limited series TV director. 

“Sunday's Escape at Dannemora finale brought the prison break drama full-circle, returning to newly liberated Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) following last week's flashback detour and also bringing us back to Tilly Mitchell's (Patricia Arquette) conversations with investigator Catherine Leahy Scott (Bonnie Hunt) featured back in the premiere.

“The episode is part wilderness thriller, part emotional resolution and part ongoing mystery as it hints at characters and motivations that we may never fully understand.

“Stiller spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about why the finale lent itself to this expanded running time, finding the finale's different story beats, why Eric Lange's Lyle was the hardest character to get a read on and whether he'd direct a full eight-hour miniseries again:

The finale runs a whopping 99 minutes. Did you always know that it had to be told as basically this feature-length thing, or did that become clear as you were looking at it from above?

Yeah. It developed when the guys [Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin] were writing the episodes and we were blocking it out, it was actually eight episodes originally. Seven and eight were going to be a two-parter, and really very early on in the writing as it was developing, we looked and we said, "This should just be its own movie." It just felt to me like every episode had to have its own vibe, and when I looked at the episodes, I feel like one and two go together, and then three and four go together, and then five is its own thing, and six is its own thing, and then seven has its own energy.

Also just the landscape and the scope and the fact that they're finally outside and they're finally in nature, and how that becomes their prison when they're out there, and how, especially for Matt, he just can't really survive out there. Yeah, very early on in the writing process, seven and eight just became one movie.

It feels as if this episode is three or four different things. It's sometimes a thriller. Then there's about a 20-minute stretch where there's no direct dialogue at all, which is remarkable. Then you've got Bonnie Hunt, who comes in and she cracks wise a couple times because she's awesome and she's Bonnie Hunt, but it's very much separate. How did you find the tone and form that fit in all of these elements that don't necessarily go together?

It was a challenge to figure out what it should be in terms of the telling of the story, because we knew that even with Catherine Leahy Scott, the Bonnie Hunt character, that as a person who was doing the investigation, she was never running the manhunt, so it felt to me that it would be very artificial to all of a sudden bring in some sort of a character that was the head of the New York State Police or whoever it was who was going to be the Javert or something going after them.

That didn't feel like that was organic, so we made the choice early on for them, out on the run, that we would try to tell their side of the story from their point of view. The idea was to be with Matt and to be with Sweat. You have the sense that there's a manhunt going on, which we see, and it's coming. Tilly can feel it, and we feel it through when we cut off of Tilly and Lyle at home. She feels like it's closing in and she can't get away from it. When we're out there, and it's obviously affecting the guys out there, too, but when we're with them, we're really in their world. As it gets closer to the end, we're just staying with them longer.

I just thought we should make the choice of feeling what it feels like to be captured from the person who's being hunted, from their point of view, because I didn't think we could introduce a character or a storyline that wouldn't make it feel like it was some sort of a procedural or something. And then it was about trying to find a way to interweave Tilly's story and Matt and Sweat's story, and I felt like it became about Tilly and Lyle and this detective who came to question her a few times, and how she ends up getting back to Catherine Leahy Scott, so it takes us back to the beginning of the show.

I'm curious about the shifting empathy/sympathy respect that you personally felt for Matt and for Sweat as you went along in this process, because it builds to a finale where there's no way Matt is going to look good out of this situation, but you do end in a position of begrudging respect for Sweat for staying with Matt and all of that.

We tried to go off of what actually happened and from what Sweat said in his interviews, and when you read the interviews that David Sweat did after he was captured, in the week after he was captured, he's very derisive and seems like he just didn't like Matt, and talks about how he slowed him down and how fat he was, and how basically he was a weight on him, and it was all his idea. This whole thing was all him.

When we talked to him last year, which is a couple years after they escaped, he had a very different feeling about [Matt]. At least when I talked to him, he was always smiling and laughing and talking about the funny things that happened to them when they were out in the woods, and when they were staying in the cabins. He told me little anecdotes about him, and said that he liked him and he was friends with him. It was this interesting juxtaposition of what I think he felt originally when he first got caught and in retrospect felt about him, which made me feel like he really did have some sort of a connection with him, but the reality was that Matt's drinking and his sickness really weighed him down.

I wanted to try to show that dynamic, and at the end of the day, these actors are playing these guys. You don't want to cheat it, and you don't want to make an audience feel for them anything they shouldn't feel other than what they're feeling. In other words, I don't want to tell the audience what to feel. The actors are going to give them a humanity. By episode six, I feel like we show who they are in terms of what they'd done, and then I wanted to just show them as two people who have a natural instinct to survive, and what that felt like, and what that must've felt like for them as individuals.

That's a fine line sometimes with how you score it and what you show, but I felt it was worth it to show with Matt that this guy had a last night, that he knew everybody was closing in on him. As an audience, I think you're invested on some level with him as a person, and it's worthwhile to show him as a human being, hopefully not trying to make you feel anything more than just the fact that he's a person who ultimately has had a very sad and broken life, and yes, did horrific things, too. I don't know. I'm not making any judgements, but I wanted the audience to have an emotional experience of them as people.

This story is obviously a very humane approach to the flaws of the criminal justice system, but do you see that as making it inherently political, or did you explicitly want to keep politics and advocacy off of the table?

It's not my job to be political in something like this. It's my job to try to tell a story that people get engaged in, and honestly, even telling the story, I never thought about the political aspect of it. It was more learning about what was going on up there and seeing the real place, and realizing that the texture and the environment of Clinton and Dannemora were such an important part of the story, because the reality is, these people are living in a very tough economic situation, having to work multiple jobs in a prison system that is very flawed and fucked up, I think.

Whether or not you think that's political or not, I just think that's my personal feeling. The reality is, if you talk to these people who work in this system, and that's one of the reasons why this happened, is the fact that a place like Clinton still exists and it's very antiquated and outdated, and the systems don't work. In terms of the people who are living up there, they're trying to make ends meet. The prison is a very important part of the economy up there. It's actually the only economy. There are multiple prisons within a 75-mile radius.

These people depend on these prisons, but yet the prisons are really flawed, so it's just part of the landscape of the story, and I think you couldn't tell the story without showing that. In that way, I feel like it's more an American story and saying a little bit about what's going on in our country right now more than anything else.

And I find it fascinating that by the end, Lyle is as close as this story might have to a heroic figure. How did your perspective on that character and his choices evolve?

Right. He, to me, is the toughest one to figure out. We never got a chance to talk to him. He didn't want to talk to us, which I understand. That's his prerogative, but I talked to people who knew, who know him, and the reality is that he made it clear that he did not believe any of the things they said about Tilly, and that he was waiting for her to come home.

You can look at it and say it's naive, and I think on one level it really is naive, but then you also have to think this guy has real feelings for her, and so we wanted to give him a sense of himself and try to reconcile that. For me, I wanted to reconcile that not as him just being a sad sack or a patsy, but as a person who actually had a conviction about how he felt and chose to stick with her.... We don't know how far she went in terms of wanting to have him killed or what she claims, which is that she didn't, but there's a lot of evidence that says she did.

They didn't have enough evidence to charge her, so there are a lot of unknowns there, but I think for Lyle, what we wanted to have in the story was a sense that this guy did have a conviction about how he felt as a person about her, and maybe he wasn't as much of a rube as you might think, and he actually had more of a spine than you might think. That was a choice we made. Ultimately, he ends up waiting for her. He says he's waiting for her, but who knows what really goes on between two people?

Having taken on this decision to direct every part of this, and talking about the complications of the production process, does it make you want to jump in and do another eight-hour series? Does it make you never want to do this ever, ever again?

I think one of the things that people have to understand when you talk about somebody directing one of these, directing all of the episodes on these things, is they're not shot like a regular series, where you shoot episode one, episode two, episode three, where you could actually bring in two directors and have one person leapfrog to the next episode. The way the production works, you have to make a choice that, if you're going to shoot something like this, that you have one director because you have to be able to shoot everything that goes on in the cell block, because you only have the cell block for six weeks. We were shooting from all the episodes, so you literally can't do it with multiple directors, unless you were shooting it like a series where you shot it in order, which would be almost impossible to do for production.

To me, it was more about just being excited about telling the story and really, if it had been a movie, if it had been a five-part series, a ten-part series or a seven-part series, I felt like it was a story that I wanted to tell as a director. Honestly, there are not that many stories with this kind of tone that are being made as movies, and I thought that the story deserved to be told in this format. But at the end of the day, in terms of the world of movies, there are just not that many interesting movies being made that have this tone. You have a much bigger canvas to play with in television with something like this, so I really had a great time. Definitely challenging, I'd probably do it a little bit differently, take a break sometime in the middle of shooting, which of course I never want to do, but the shoot went on for so long and that was probably the toughest part of it.

But just to have a chance to tell the story is what I felt very fortunate to be able to do.”

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Per Deadline, “The New York Yankees, owners of 20% of regional sports network YES, are in talks with Amazon and Sinclair Broadcast Group about a bid for the remaining 80% of it, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Disney is reviewing bids for the 22 RSNs owned by 21st Century Fox. As it moves toward the closing of its $71.3 billion acquisition of most of Fox, Disney has agreed with regulators to sell off the regional networks so as to avoid overlaps with ESPN. The worth of the entire portfolio has been estimated at $20 billion, but YES has an outsized share of that, with the current bidding valuing it at between $5 billion and $6 billion.

“Talks are at an early stage, the Journal reported, and the Yankees have also approached cable distributor Altice USA about joining the effort. The team has priority with regard to the fate of the remaining 80% of the network, which is considered beachfront property given the size of the New York market and the national profile of the Yankees.

“Reps from Amazon, Sinclair and the Yankees did not immediately respond to Deadline’s requests for comment.

“Amazon has pushed deeper into the live sports realm in recent years, acquiring streaming rights to the NFL’s Thursday Night Football and the U.S. Open tennis tournament in the UK. A regional sports network in some ways is the polar opposite of its core business, but sources have consistently told Deadline that it could thrive as a streaming partner with a more traditional network operator, as is the case with NFL games. NFL officials and team owners were satisfied enough with Amazon’s initial performance in 2017 that they re-upped with the tech giant for two more years, 2018 and 2019.

“The Yankees have long worked with private equity firms on the financial strategy for YES, which launched in 2002 and ushered in an era of sports teams seeking more control of their own TV rights. Major P.E. firm Blackstone is also working with Sinclair on a bid for the larger portfolio, and executives at the leading local TV station owner have repeatedly indicated their keen interest in the RSNs.

“Fox gained majority ownership in YES earlier this decade. The Fox entity that will remain after the Disney transaction is among the bidders for the larger portfolio of RSNs.”

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Per EW,The Masked Singer is bizarre and a little bit tacky, but it’s also the most engrossing reality singing competition since The Voice debuted seven years ago.

“Fox’s new show follows unidentified celebrities dressed in elaborate face-concealing costumes belting Top 40 hits in hopes of winning a grand trophy. It’s the American adaption of the Korean original King of Masked Singer where Ryan Reynolds famously sang Tomorrow from Annie dressed as a unicorn. It’s unclear if The Masked Singer will attract a similar cohort of A-List contestants, though it touts Grammy winners, Super Bowl champions, and Emmy nominees. But that’s part of the charm. Could they have actually booked Jack Black?

EW stopped by a mid-season taping on June 21, 2018, that was equal parts chaotic (the warm-up comedienne failed to fully energize the live audience) and thrilling (the costume designer deserves an Emmy for the ornate looks). Here’s what we saw:

It’s Jenny McCarthy Wahlberg’s world

Jenny McCarthy Wahlberg is joined on the panel by former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, singer Robin Thicke, as well as comedian Ken Jeong. Though Nick Cannon hosts, he stays on the side of the stage and doesn’t interact with the panelists who sit above the audience. The set-up doesn’t entirely work. They are a bit too far away from the action. You’d have to turn around to see their real-time reactions during the performances. But even from afar, McCarthy Wahlberg dominates with the best one-liners and biggest energy. Cannon, a former America’s Got Talent host, pales in comparison.

Come for the voices

Surprisingly, each contestant can actually sing. The audience came alive for the performances, watching the singers belt out hits like The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face, Lady Gaga’s Diamond Heart, and Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It. Each singer is preceded by a video dropping little hints about their identity for the panelists who play a game of ‘Two Truths and a Lie. They’re rarely ever right, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the voices that keep things interesting.

Stay for the costumes

One guest panelist, who hasn’t yet been announced, summed it up best when they said the show goes “from America’s Got Talent to America’s got freaks.” Everyone looked like they walked off the set of a Tim Burton film. There’s a steampunk Bee, a Liberace-inspired peacock, a futuristic Rabbit, and a monster that just might be the cousin of Sully from Monster’s Inc. (above). While lavish, the looks hindered many contestants from dancing across the stage.

It’s all about the reveal

No one knows who the celebrity contests are — not Cannon, not the panelists, and not even the producers or stagehands. That’s part of the excitement. Even Fox employees were on the edge of their seats waiting to find out who was sent home — Gigi Hadid? Paris Jackson? Kendall Jenner? The unmasking doesn’t actually occur right after the announcement. The singers are given time to head backstage to touch up their makeup and hair. But 20 minutes later, the reveal is still as satisfying after hours of guessing.”

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Per The New York Post, “Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern has been axed from prime time on the Travel Channel amid the controversy over his assertion that Chinese food in the Midwest is being served in ‘horses - - t restaurants.’

“The celebrity chef’s Bizarre Foods juggernaut franchise and sister show, The Zimmern List, have been bumped by network owner Discovery, Inc. into a graveyard rotation slot on Saturday mornings to run their course, Page Six has confirmed.

“Filming has stopped on both shows midseason, sources tell us, and is not expected to continue further.

“The move comes after the James Beard Award-winning chef offended the Asian-American community in comments to promote his Midwestern Chinese restaurant chain by saying: ‘I think I’m saving the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horses - - t restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest.’

“His comments sparked outrage, with Ruth Tam writing in the Washington Post, ‘[He] has the noble cause of '“saving” white people from eating bad Chinese food. When Chinese people make Americanized Chinese food for white people, Zimmern calls it ‘horses - - t.” But when he does it, it’s “unique.”’

Eater also fumed, ‘Zimmern simultaneously denigrates Philip Chiang . . . and elevates himself to the position of being the person capable of opening middle America’s eyes to the myriad regional cuisines of a vast, diverse culture.’

“Eating humble pie, Zimmern responded, ‘I am completely responsible for what I said and I want to apologize to anyone who was offended.’

“A Travel Channel rep insisted Zimmern wasn’t given the chop because of his insensitive comments, but admitted his remaining episodes have been relegated, saying, ‘The shows, along with other food content on Travel, will no longer air on prime time, but on Saturday mornings in rotation. This decision came before Andrew’s comments were made.’

“It is believed Zimmern’s shows on the Cooking Channel and the Food Network will continue as scheduled.

“His rep didn’t get back to us.”