Tag Archives: FX

End of an Era: Nate’s Top 20 TV Shows of the Decade

It has been an amazing decade for television! Not only that but in the last ten years we have seen a giant shift from the casual week-to-week entertainment factor of cable TV towards serious arthouse long form storytelling, major production value on the small screen and a much celebrated golden age of serialized television. There have been dozens upon dozens of beautifully crafted, innovative, imaginative and affecting pieces of work produced and here are my twenty personal favourite!

20. The Big Lez Show (2012/YouTube)

This one is something else. Essentially a simplistic piece quite literally animated on Microsoft Paint, it highlights the profane, raucous and often meditative adventures of Big Lez, his stoner Sasquatch buddies and many others. Australian humour adds an offbeat quality and there’s never a shortage of bizarre comedic set pieces, hysterical character interaction and a sense of WTF-ness that permeates the whole thing.

19. Justified (2010/FX)

You’d never believe that such a legendary, Kentucky fried aesthetic could be distilled from one Elmore Leonard short story, but this thing is a feast. Timothy Olyphant scores big as brittle Federal Marshal Raylan Givens, venturing back to his rural roots for six glorious seasons of pulpy, star studded, densely verbose modern western intrigue.

18. Goliath (2018/Amazon Prime)

Billy Bob Thornton does a career best turn in this surreal LA noir about a disgraced ex super-lawyer on the skids and forced to take on near suicidal class action lawsuits. Cue mystery, political corruption, glossy California decadence and a sense of ramshackle family within his tight knit crew. It’s a fantastic, high powered thriller and intense character study with top caliber guest actors and a feel for California and the surrounding area that draws you right in.

17. Ray Donovan (2013/Showtime)

Part Grand Theft Auto, part L.A. Confidential with a healthy dose of contemporary pop culture, this is a fantastic cross section and often satire of gritty underworld Hollywood through the eyes of Liev Schreiber’s Ray, a Boston bred tough guy with the polish of L.A. who acts as fixer, muscle, often romantic partner and secret agent of sorts to the elites of media and sports industries. There’s morality plays, fierce examinations of Shakespearean loyalty and betrayal, stinging dark humour, farcical sensibilities, dastardly villains and a lot of pathos packed into this still continuing epic.

16. Shameless (2011/Showtime)

Life for a lower middle class Chicago family is hilariously documented in this candid, raunchy, heartfelt and chaotic framework full of fantastic performances, chief among them William H. Macy as their perpetually drunk patriarch and the lovely Emmy Rossum as his brave, fierce and resilient daughter. There’s never a shortage of hijinks, severely R rated shenanigans or berserk subplots around, plus along the way you get a good sense for each family member and their woes, joys and personal struggles.

15. Game Of Thrones (2011/HBO)

I do have issues with this show, namely pacing, tone and the fucking rush job of a last season thanks to those two writers. However, this is a gargantuan fantasy epic that changed the landscape of television forever and has an infinity of gorgeously mounted set pieces, complex character dynamics and yes, dragons.

14. Stranger Things (2016/Netflix)

Neon, 80’s nostalgia, Amblin vibes, Stephen King atmosphere and yesteryear pop culture abound. This show is now an international phenomenon and rightfully so but it legit has the quality and heart to back up the hype, particularly in the near perfect first season.

13. Homecoming (2018/Amazon Prime)

Julia Roberts uncovers a deeply planted conspiracy amongst the ex military patients she’s hired to provide counselling for in this baroque, moody noir that only arrives in thirty minute episodes but somehow seems much denser. Melancholy, burnished and stocked with musical tracks lifted right from classic Hollywood films, this is one captivating piece of storytelling.

12. The Alienist (2018/TNT)

This dark, macabre tale sees a psychiatric pioneer (Daniel Bruhl), a crime scene illustrator (Luke Evans) and the first woman in the New York police department (Dakota Fanning) on the hunt for a terrifying, ever elusive serial killer near the turn of the century. It’s slick, intelligent, unexpected and not watered down whatsoever, leading to one of the starkest and most brutal yet captivating portraits of history I’ve ever seen onscreen.

11. The Terror (2018/AMC)

This inclusion goes for season one, which in its own is a thing of magisterial beauty, terror and primal existentialism. An elemental fiction reworking of a real life naval disappearance in the arctic, this story is best binged in one rainy day to absorb character, incident and the cold atmosphere of such a remote series of events.

10. Fargo (2014/FX)

I’ve been flayed for holding this opinion before but for me this tv adaptation outdoes the Coen brothers’ original film itself. A near biblical trio of seasons that begins with the icy Minnesota black comedy crime aesthetic and ascends at times to something daring and esoteric, this breaks both the mould it was forged in and that of television itself. Plus you get to briefly see Bruce Campbell play Ronald Reagan and if that ain’t worth the time capsule then I just don’t know what is.

9. Letterkenny (2016/CraveTV)

Rural Ontario seems like an odd setting for one of the snappiest, smartly written and hysterical comedies this decade has seen but there you go. Basically just the humdrum misadventures of a town with 5,000 population and no shortage of mayhem, this is television like no other and you really have to just crush like five episodes, immerse yourself in the mile a minute dialogue and jokes to experience the magic. Pitter patter.

8. Happy! (2017/SyFy)

Disgraced, alcoholic ex cop turned hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni in a career best) and his daughter’s imaginary friend Happy the flying unicorn (Patton Oswalt) hunt down all kinds of freaks, weirdos, perverts, contract killers and arch villains on Christmas Eve to find a bunch of kidnapped children. That description says nothing though, only through viewing this can you appreciate how ballsy, subversive and deeply fucked up this story really is. Not for the faint of heart, but anyone with a love of whacked out dark humour and unconventional storytelling will get a royal kick.

7. Hannibal (2013/NBC)

I’ll admit I wasn’t super pumped when I heard that NBC was doing a Hannibal rendition, as they’re kind of a vanilla cable show runner. But creator Bryant Fuller churned out something spectacularly atmospheric, unbelievably artistic and so not what you’d expect to see. Mads Mikkelsen makes a chilling, low key and almost ethereal Dr. Lekter, Hugh Dancy a haunted, empathetic Will Graham and there’s an eclectically rounded cast of guest stars including Laurence Fishburne, Kacey Rohl, Eddie Izzard, Michael Pitt, Katherine Isabelle, Lance Henriksen and more.

6. Westworld (2016/HBO)

The advent of artificial intelligence blends with humanity’s deepest desires and eventually something more profound in this complex, operatic, gorgeously mounted science fiction epic. It’s a tricky beast and a labyrinthine (literally and figuratively) experience to process but stick with it and the resulting effect is mesmerizing.

5. Maniac (2018/Netflix)

Jonah Hill and Emma Stone headline this psychological fantasy that’s kinda tough to pin down. A clandestine drug trial in a casette futurism setting leads to personal revelations, social satire and the kind of episodic time travel multidimensional storytelling that I live for. Brilliant stuff.

4. The Haunting Of Hill House (2018/Netflix)

Stephen King called this a work of genius, and I too share that sentiment. This is old school spook horror done beautifully, with powerful performances, psychological depth, harrowing scares both ghostly and wrought from human nature and characters that forge a strong place in your heart with each passing episode.

3. The OA (2016/Netflix)

I’m still so choked that Netflix cancelled this after only two seasons yet they keep tired, mediocre garbage like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why limping on long past their shelf life. I’ll quit being bitter now but you’ll see what a gem this is after five minutes of the pilot. Rich storytelling, groundbreaking conceptual design and ideas that don’t only think outside the box but defy dimensional existence. One day someone will pick this up for continuation but until then please check out the two masterful first seasons.

2. True Detective (2014/HBO)

A southern gothic conspiracy folk horror, an inky, fatalistic LA noir and a bleak ozark family saga. So far. The first season kicks off with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the darkest heart of Louisiana and while it’s my favourite part of this anthology so far, all three chapters cast their respective spell wonderfully.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017/Showtime)

David Lynch delivers not only a dazzling, appropriately perplexing and ever mysterious follow up to his initial series but a personal filmmaking magnum opus. He and his team changed the face of television once in the early 90’s and with this stunning piece of originality, horror, musical performance, surrealism, coffee, cherry pie and inter-dimensional travel… they pull it off again.

Thanks for reading and tune in lots in the coming decade for much more!!

-Nate Hill

The Light, The Dark & the souls in between: A review of FX’s Fargo by Nate Hill

Series creator Noah Hawley had the daunting task of taking Fargo, one of the most iconic Coen Brothers films, and turning it into a long form piece of television storytelling for FX. That’s the nutshell version anyways, what he was really up against was a gaggle of rabid Coen acolytes who wanted networks nowhere near the shining legacy of the film, which has gone platinum as a highlight in the Brother’s career. How did he and his team do? Well, better than the Coens themselves did, which may stand as a controversial opinion, but if you’re as big a fan of the show’s brilliant three season run as I am then you’ll agree.

The Coen’s designed the blueprint, if you will, while Hawley & Co. take that template and positively run wild with it. It’s an anthology piece where each season focuses on another bunch of ne’er do well characters who are connected sometimes loosely and sometimes in ways that floor you later on. Yes, all the tropes we love are there: thick blizzards of blinding snow, murder most foul, dark comedy and those hysterically quaint Minnesota accents that seem to be pulled right out of Tolkien’s The Shire in some odd way. But Hawley digs deeper, and for all it’s grounded noir, homicidal schemes and materialistic flash, his Fargo mines for esoteric gold and to me ultimately is about beings of light and dark waging war over human souls on our plane. This is of course my own intuitive theory and is evident sometimes more often than others within the show, but it’s hard not to see when you look at both how cheerfully angelic some of the good, kind folks are here and how fitfully, deliciously self aware the evil ones are, like it’s less their nature to be despicably destructive as much as it is simply their job.

The first and strongest season sees Billy Bob Thornton’s sagely psychopath Lorne Malvo blow into town on a whim and stir up a brew of horrors almost by accident or out of sheer boredom, pushing the already unstable nebbish Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) to ongoing acts of unspeakable destruction. A smart cop (Allison Tolman), another slightly less smart cop (Colin Hanks) and others fight the good fight to root out evil and stop Malvo’s unholy snowball effect of mayhem and restore order. This one works the best as a stand-alone, wraps up the loose ends most satisfyingly and holds as the showcase chunk the show has to offer. The second season is brilliant but less focused, flashing back to the snowy 70’s to chronicle Sheriff Lou Solverson’s (Patrick Wilson, also played by a stoic Keith Carradine in S1) battle against the brutal Gerhardt crime family when they’re turf skirmish with a big city syndicate erupts into all out warfare and the bodies begin piling up. What this season lacks in pacing and a clearly painted main villain it makes up for in spectacle, there’s a vast ensemble cast and lush period production design for a visual element that won’t quit. Zahn Mclarnon excels as Hanzee Dent, a troubled First Nations assassin who struggles with being a lone outsider and feels a moral crisis at the penultimate moment, Jeffrey Donovan is enthusiastically nasty as Dodd, the misogynistic elder brother of the Gerhardt clan, while Bokeem Woodbine is the slick city slicker encroaching on his territory. Season 3 unfolds on a smaller scale, back to the grassroots procedural drama that leads to heinous unlawful doings. Ewan McGregor does double duties as two twin brothers in a hateful feud, one of which finds himself in the ravenous maw of terrifying V.M. Varga (David Thewlis in a career best), a demonic opportunist out to cause bureaucratic anarchy within the ranks with his army of underworld goons. Local cop Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) tries to fit the pieces together and a mysterious messianic nomad (Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise) presides over the whole debacle with laconic benevolence. That’s the tip of the iceberg really, and vivid impressions are made by a beautifully chosen, star studded cast that includes Oliver Platt, Adam Goldberg, Stephen Root, Bob Odenkirk, Shawn Doyle, Ted Danson, Nick Offerman, Jean Smart, Kieran Culkin, Michael Hogan, Jennifer Copping, Brad Garrett, Russell Harvard, Scott Hylands, Frances Fisher, Francesca Eastwood, Fred Melamed, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cristin Milioti, Angus Sampson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Goran Bogdan, Shea Wigham, Mary McDonnell, Key & Peele, DJ Qualls, Scoot Mcnairy, Mackenzie Grey, Wayne Duvall and Bruce Campbell in a cameo as Ronald Reagan.

Each of the three seasons is a dense, meticulously woven patchwork quilt of violence, mistaken identity, literary references, surreal allegorical imagery, unpredictable plot turns, monsters, and mayhem, each with its own unmistakable style and atmosphere. Much of the storytelling is filled with things that seem like planted arbitration, like UFO sightings or cutaways to other vignettes, but they’re there to gild the tales with further eccentricity and for you to make of them what you will, as much of it is never explained or totally elaborated on, which I appreciate. With each episode there’s a lot more going on than what’s in the main arc, these are stories to be savoured and scrutinized for clues and references, of which there are many subtle callbacks to the Coen’s other work, it’s fun to notice and tally them up. The themes of light and dark are ever present through the entire run though, as if we’re privy to a never ending battle of forces wrapped in a cluster of crime stories centred around snowy Minnesota and surrounding areas. I’m not sure whether they plan to go ahead with a fourth season and I’d welcome it, but as it stands this is a beautifully made trilogy, with fantastic writing that practically feeds the brain like prosaic protein, a cast that’s to die for and narratives that truly take you on harrowing, hilarious adventures. You betcha.

-Nate Hill

A Chat with Actor Mark Acheson: An Interview by Nate Hill 

  

Very excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Mark Acheson. Mark has played countless distinct characters in film, including the mailroom guy who befriends Buddy in Elf, the thug who attacks Rorschach in Zach Snyder’s Watchmen, Moses Tripoli, the head of the North Dakota mob in FX’s Fargo, and more. He has also appeared in John Mctiernan’s The 13th Warrior, Reindeer Games, The Chronicles Of Riddick, Hot Rod, She’s The Man, 3000 Miles To Graceland, Crossfire Trail and more. Enjoy! 

Nate: When did you first know that you wanted to pursue a career in acting?
Mark: My first play I performed in grade 7 at age 11. My school loved the bad boy character and suddenly I was popular. I was hooked from then on.

Nate: Some actors/films/filmmakers who have inspired you in your own work?
Mark: I always loved movies and television and my idea of the perfect actor is Daniel Day Lewis who I think is unrecognizable from role to role. That to me is true acting.

Nate: Fargo: How was your experience with that show? Any stories from set?
Mark: Fargo was perfect. I remember the incredibly talented Noah Hawley who wrote the script always on set polishing constantly. I was very proud that our episodes won three Emmys including best miniseries and best casting by Jackie Lind who is truly a force of nature.
Nate: Watchmen: your experience working with Snyder, and on the film?
Mark: Zach was the youngest and possibly one of the most gifted directors I have ever had the pleasure to work for. He was relaxed and made the set even more so.

Nate: Some of your favourite roles you have played so far in your career?
Mark: So many great projects I have been lucky enough to be in but working with Will Farrell in Elf had to be the best. I have been recognized all over the world from that one small part. Director Jon Favreau let us ad lib everything. Will is a genius!!
Nate: You went to Langara College’s Studio 58. I myself went to their somewhat new subsidiary program called Film Arts. How do you find that theatre training has affected your work in film? Do you still do any stage work? 

Mark:  I entered theater school at age 15 and it changed my life. To play Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Gave me my start as a pro and my first agent. I miss the stage very much especially Shakespeare which I enjoyed so much. Sadly these days stage is too infrequent and too much of a time commitment.
Nate: The 13th Warrior: excellent, underrated film with a notoriously troubled production. How was your experience working on it?

Mark: This was originally titled Eaters of the Dead. Difficult set. Schwarzenegger was originally booked but fought the studio about shooting in Canada. He was getting ready to run for governor. Best part was to meet and work with Omar Sharif. Such a film legend and an even nicer man.
Nate: Your dream role?

Mark: After acting for almost 50 years my dream is just to keep working. I love it all especially the variety.
Nate: Any upcoming projects, cinematic or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to talk about?

Mark: I currently have 4 projects in the can including Lewis and Clark for HBO airing this Christmas but I am barred from any pics or descriptions until they air. July I will start another movie that looks like alot of fun but as usual I will be killed like I was on two shows last week. Just making a living dying.

Nate:  Thank you so much for your time, and the opportunity to chat. Best of luck in the future!
Mark:  Thanks again Nate. All the best. Your interest makes all the struggle and auditions I didn’t get worthwhile.

The People vs OJ Simpson – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

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We’ve reached a tipping point with dramatic television.  The new golden age of TV has almost reached this Marvel-esque oversaturation point.  There is a constant onslaught, whether on the television itself, or ads online, of new programming.  Programming that promises to be different, to be sharper, to be like nothing you’ve seen before.  Then came THE PEOPLE VS OJ SIMPSON.

This new series, American Crime Story, started last night with its pilot episode, and it is PHENOMENAL.  We all know the story, we can recall the nostalgic era of the OJ trial.  Jay Leno and his dancing Itos, the NBA finals game getting minimized for the “high speed” chase, but how much do we actually know about it?

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The cast is paramount, stringing together former star power with character actors and current talent; the cast may very well be on the top tier of television ensembles ever.  Sarah Paulson and Bruce Greenwood as wonderfully solid as ever.  John Travolta, David Schwimmer, Courtney B. Vance, and Cuba Gooding Jr have dusted themselves off, and marked their return in wonderful showboating performances.

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Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander have created a show that not only drums up our nostalgic rememberings of the greatest media circus ever and humanizing it, but also made this at a time where the social climate of the OJ trial is more relevant than ever.  Just when you thought TV couldn’t get any better, then came THE PEOPLE VS OJ SIMPSON.