Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Deprived of the Telly
Ever since I traversed the world's longest undefended border in a southerly direction, I've been catching up on all the "premium" television I missed while living up north. It is a sad fact of life that Canadians pay larcenous amounts to cable, satellite, and mobile phone providers, making channels like HBO, Showtime, and Turner Classic Movies unaffordable luxuries for many; myself included. Now, I have access to all the television I could possibly want, so much so that I have forsaken books for the time being to stream shows like "Boardwalk Empire," "Downton Abbey," and others that I had no access to because I refused to choose between the occasional sushi supper and the boob tube. Sushi won out because spicy tuna rolls give me more pleasure than forking over my hard-earned money to thieving entities like Rogers Communications.
"Downton Abbey" and "Boardwalk Empire" have kept me riveted to my laptop in my spare time; especially "Boardwalk," since it is "The Sopranos" re-imagined with Tommy guns and lots of liquor. Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is every bit as evil as Tony Soprano, with the added bonus of spot-on period backdrops. It's not so easy to re-create Atlantic City of the Roaring 20s, but Terence Winter and his HBO cronies do a fantastic job. He must long for the days when location scouting consisted of trolling Teaneck, West Orange, and Garden State Plaza, as opposed to having to create a genteel version of Atlantic City that no longer exists. The New Jersey of "The Sopranos" is still pretty much the same; Nucky Thompson's Atlantic City might as well be the underwater island of Atlantis.
The same goes for Julian Fellowes' addicting World War I British period drama, "Downton Abbey." I've always been a sucker for British television (hello "Absolutely Fabulous" and "Monty Python's Flying Circus"), so this was a no-brainer for me. And even though "Downton" is hopelessy soap operatic, it goes where "Upstairs Downstairs" never did. The characters are extraordinary; who doesn't love Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley? And Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora Crawley, the lone American in a group of stuffy Brits? Amazing. I literally spent an entire weekend watching all the previous episodes, so I would be ready for the eagerly anticipated third season. So far, it does not disappoint.
In case you haven't figured it out, HBO is the channel I missed the most. Besides "Boardwalk," most of its original programming, save for a few stinkbombs like "The Comeback" and "Flight of the Conchords," is stellar. What cemented that for me was the original film "Game Change," which stars Julianne Moore as Governor Sarah Palin, Ed Harris as Senator John McCain, and Woody Harrelson as creepy used car salesman -er, senior campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt. Julianne Moore's portrayal of Sarah Palin was at once brilliant and downright scary. Even though I didn't want to believe that she could be that dumb, it would have been an unmitigated disaster had that woman accompanied John McCain to the White House. No other broadcast entity would have had the balls to portray Governor Palin in all her blockheaded glory than HBO. And big, big kudos to Julianne Moore for the brave performance that snagged her Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe awards. She is one of my all-time favorite actresses.
I must admit that I feel enormous guilt over forsaking the written word for so much television, but hey - it's not like I'm spending countless hours watching Honey Boo Boo or the Kardashians. If that were the case, I'd gladly undergo shock therapy and a full-frontal lobotomy if necessary. For me, the best check-your-brain-at-the-door activities are ones that still make me think. It's when the thinking stops that I begin to worry.