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The British television industry has a tradition of creating short-lived series. In America, a show may have 23 episodes in a season; in Britain, it is often only half that or, as fans of the recent Sherlock reboot well know, only three. In addition, the Brits will create a “series” that is only expected to live one, maybe two years. Where we Yanks will keep a show going well past its sell-by date, the Brits make a show, air it, and move on to the next idea, the next story.

Naturally, they have their long-standing staples like Coronation Street, East Enders, Top Gear, and Time Team (which sadly was canceled after two decades of wonderful programming), but by and large this “one-off” approach to television creates a more varied viewing landscape where, if you don’t like a show, just wait a month or two and something new will be on.

And so, British television will often take risks that would give American television execs apoplexy.

Hit & Miss is a perfect example. (more…)

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Bogie and BacallYesterday, after posting about “Persuasion,” I asked my online peeps what their favorite on-screen kiss was. I did not ask for Best; I asked for Favorite.

When Best walks in the door, it has Judgment on one arm and Argument on the other, while Favorite is pure opinion. You can’t argue or judge someone’s favorite. Best is an opinion. Favorite…Favorite just is.

The list was interesting, and I was surprised by each and every response, in one way or another. Some choices hinted at the flip-side of my friends’ personal coin. Others were obvious sentimental choices. Others were temporal, tied more to a time or event than to the movie itself. All were illuminating, and I can easily see how any of them could be someone’s favorite.

As with everything, this is all grist for the novelist’s Character Creation mill. The quirks and quiet, inner details of personalities fascinate. People are like fractals: the deeper you look, the more detail you see.

Here’s the list. Feel free to add yours in comments! (more…)

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I watch a lot of British television–a lot for an American, that is–and not just on BBC America. I watch Masterpiece Theater, I subscribe to Acorn TV, and I even buy DVDs direct from the UK so I can see some shows not available any other way (“New Tricks” is a good example). But there’s one thing I hate about British television series: They’re too damned short.

Now that my beloved “Ripper Street” has completed its stingy 8-episode Season One, I was jonesing for a new series. I saw the ads for the new show called “Orphan Black,” but to be honest, I wasn’t going to watch. Then an advert for the opening 3-minutes popped up on my Facebook feed and I thought, why not?

In the first minutes, we meet Sara (Tatiana Maslany) at a train station somewhere near New York City. She’s a Brit, and she has serious problems. But whatever she’s up against, it’s  nothing compared to the what’s bothering that woman over there, crying at the end of the train platform. Sara goes over to the woman, and discovers that the woman looks just like her…right before the woman steps in front of the oncoming train. Sara, distraught, has a moment of panic, then a moment of clarity; she grabs the dead woman’s purse and flees the scene.

That’s the three-minute setup, and it was pretty good. Good enough, in fact, to get me to plunk it on the DVR and watch the whole episode.

Is it as good as “Ripper Street”? No. Is it better than most things on American network television? Yes.

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It’s not often that I can tie together what is arguably the grittiest crime drama on network television with a 1966 rom-com–OK, I’ve never done it, so today’s a first–and I’ll be frank with you, tieing these two objects together is going to take some doing, so have patience. I’ll get there.

Yesterday during my workout I watched “How to Steal a Million” (1966), starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. It is a light-hearted bit of fluff about the daughter of an art forger and a purported art thief who need to steal something to protect a secret. It’s set in Paris, Audrey is swathed in Givenchy throughout, O’Toole sports around in an XK-E, and it has several temporal “shout-outs” to the stars’ previous hits, so I’m sure it was doubly enjoyable for folks back in ’66 who’d been following these two icons through their early careers. It’s a little less believable than most romantic comedies (which means it was totally farcical), but one doesn’t watch a rom-com for believability or with any doubts as to the outcome. We watch them for the interaction, for the play, for the fun of it, and in this respect, “How to Steal a Million” delivers, even today.

I thought it was out-dated, though, because of its treatment of Ms. Hepburn’s character. (more…)

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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiThis week, I’m on “stay-cation,” which means we get to laze around the house for several days, go on outings, catch up on our reading, and watch a lot of movies. We started the week off by bingeing on the first season of a new series distributed by Netflix…yes, Netflix; they’re in the movie-making biz, now.

House of Cards” stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in the two lead roles, and when we started off, I was immediately hit with a sense of déjà vu. Something was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. But then a reporter speculated about the meaning behind a recent shift in power. When Frank Underwood (Spacey) drawled the answer, “You might very well think that; I, however, could not possibly comment,” it all clicked.

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Obey the Kitty!It’s been seven months since I began this experiment, and I feel it’s been pretty successful. The interest from you all has gelled around a handful of topics–writing, food, reviews, Seattle–but I haven’t felt restricted or limited in any way. And to date, nearly a hundred of you have decided to keep tabs on my flow of opinions. Thank you; I find that gratifying and encouraging.

Oddly, one of the most popular posts has been my review of “Ripper Street.” That one post, still only a couple weeks old, ranks #4 on the “most viewed” list, surpassed only by the Home Page and other pages that have been here from the beginning. And most every day, it gets a couple hits, mostly from search engines looking for references to a “peeper’s dry plate.”

So, if you’re here looking for an explanation for that rogue comment, made by Sergeant Drake on “Ripper Street” (S1E1):

A “peeper” was Victorian slang for a mirror, but also (as today) for anyone who might be engaged in voyeuristic activities, such as a photographer of smut.

A “dry plate” is an improved photographic plate, using gelatin, that was invented in the late 19th c., and which had many practical advantages over the “wet plate.”

 My thanks again, to you who read this regularly.

k

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There’s a new television series, coming from Britain to the U.S., courtesy of BBC America. It’s called “Ripper Street” and we watched the pilot last night.

British TV has a reputation for creating series (well, some anyway) that don’t talk down to the audience. They have a reputation for high-quality productions. They have a reputation of fine actors playing complicated characters.

This show is all of those things.

What immediately makes this show unique is that it is set in London circa 1889, in the months immediately after Jack the Ripper’s killing spree. The policemen, the criminals, and the populace all have those gruesome crimes fresh in mind.

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