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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

John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns

What if there was a film out there that was so destructively evil that it had the power to end the world? (And no it’s not The Master Of Disguise). John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns explores this in grisly, eerie fashion for one of the many varied and interesting horror features produced by Showtime’s limited Masters Of Horror run.

Norman Reedus plays a moody private investigator with a dark past hired by Udo Kier’s sinister rare film collector to track down and bring him ‘La Fin Absolut du Monde’, a fabled piece of celluloid that is apparently so disturbing to watch it sends audiences into homicidal mania and subsequently causes the end of all things. Cool, huh? It’s wicked great with two creepy central performances from Norman and Udo who just ooze cult charisma and fit well into Carpenter’s spooky palette.

I particularly enjoyed the skin crawling appearance of a ‘willowy being’ (Christopher Redman) who is supposedly some sort of celestial creature that was tortured to bring about some of the film’s cursed imagery. Reedus’s character is given a ne’er do well aura and practically radiates bad luck as we see ongoing flashbacks to a tragic relationship and sense that he’s headed purely in the wrong karmic direction in looking for this film. Kier has demented fun as the weirdo film aficionado and if you think you’ve seen everything just wait for the sight of him feeding his own bloody intestines through a film projector with a satisfied smile on his face. Yeesh. You won’t find this brought up when discussing Carpenter’s usual stuff because it’s technically a TV episode but it is feature length and does have his trademark dark suspense and macabre inventiveness all over it, and is great fun. Oh and pay attention to what the titular cigarette burns refers to because it’ll come in handy for movie trivia at the pub.

-Nate Hill

Comedic Wizard, Hollywood Warrior: An Interview with Walter Olkewicz by Kent Hill

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Growing up I was a huge sword & sorcery fan . . . still am. The older one gets, you find yourself using the phrase, “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” more and more. In the case of sword & sorcery it is all too clear why it is sad, in some ways, to reminisce. But I can’t fully transmit to you in words, just how much the show Wizards & Warriors was then, and would later become, an integral influence. It took something with reasonably defined staples and subverted them in the best possible way.

This was part of the reason the more recent effort, Your Highness, was such a dismal failure. I admit I was hopeful all the way up to until I finally set eyes on the picture. Yes, it dealt irreverently with the source influences. But, ultimately forgot what made them so glorious in the first place. While Wizards & Warriors, on the other hand,  was so ahead of its time it’s ridiculous. Subverted genre work is more prevalent today, but back then, it was a bold choice. I soaked it up, and it quickly became the stuff of which permeated my dreams, dominated my day-long make-believe adventures and of course was a the well from which I have many times gone back to with my own works like Deathmaster, Sword Dude, and the like.

So you can, possibly, only imagine the joyous moment when I finally was able to chat with Prince Greystone’s faithful vassal Marko, played by the supremely talented Walter Olkewicz .

In Walter’s tales from his illustrious career I uncovered the story of an effortless performer, a loyal friend, a devoted family man, and a true inspiration to all those who have the dream of being a player of many parts.

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His credits speak for themselves, and I found it most intriguing, that a man who has known such heights could remain, I believe, as he has ever been – the salt of the earth. Walter has though, of late, been suffering with medical issues. It is comforting to hear however, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Please do take a moment, if you can, to support his recovery, so that Walter can get back to doing what he does best. (Please follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-walter-save-his-leg#/ )

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m proud to present, Walter Olkewicz.

 

Two Wolves, a snake eating its tail and a secret- A review of Twin Peaks: The Return by Nate Hill 


Twin Peaks: The Return has come full circle, and I mean that quite literally. Carefully, lovingly and maddeningly orchestrated by David Lynch, who has proven himself to be nothing short of a brilliant mad scientist of the cinematic arts, this is an endlessly deep, fiercely creative vision that refuses to compromise or meet anyone halfway, and it’s all the better for it. Showtime gave the man full and total control over every aspect, a decision they most likely didn’t fully understand at the time, but one which will have a beautiful ripple effect upon the landscape of serialized television and art itself in the decades to come, just as the original series did until now. 
  As the show unwinds in elliptical, rhythmic kaleidoscope fashion, it arrives at what can be called an ending only for the fact that there must be a last episode, but it’s not really an ending at all, there never was one in Twin Peaks, and likely never will be, a quality that has given it it’s vitality since day one. Many are having trouble accepting Lynch’s open ended, haunting finale, and that’s alright, considering human beings are simply wired to seek answers, and engineered to get frustrated, hostile even, when they aren’t provided. If one sits at a table with a jigsaw puzzle spread out, how would it be if the puzzle were quickly, neatly solved? The very quality that makes it a puzzle evaporates, the mystery gone, and one would simply lose interest, get up from the table and walk away. Now, if a handful of pieces are missing and never found, if the puzzle remains unsolved indefinitely, it feeds the observer with the fuel to pour thought, attention and care into continuously pondering how they might fit the pieces together, if ever at all. In short, the mystery lives on, and on. Lynch understands this, and it’s a wondrous gift to give fans, who no doubt will have Twin Peaks on the brain until the day they move on to the white lodge. It is quite literally the gift that keeps on giving. Like a snake eating it’s own tail, like the never ending, billowy curtains of the labyrinthine Red Room, like the portentous infinity symbol that the Philip Jeffries teapot warns Cooper with, this is a story that has ends, beginnings, middles, alternate timelines, repetition and, thanks to the intangible forces constantly at work, will never truly be at rest, at least not in any way that we can comprehend. 
  The themes which have fascinated Lynch his whole career are in full bloom here like never before, but one that takes centre stage after being deftly touched upon in the show and Fire Walk With Me is that of duality, light versus dark and the uneasy realization that the line between them isn’t as stark as we’d like it to be. Leland Palmer was always thought to be possessed by Bob, unbeknownst of his heinous atrocities, a babe in the very dark woods. Fire Walk With Me blew that comforting certainty right out of the water with some very dodgy scenes implicating Palmer himself, blurring the lines to show that although good and evil may indeed occupy opposite sides of the fence, they most certainly hop over and tread on each other’s lawn, a truth that has been shied away from in cinema quite often, but one which Lynch won’t let you tune out so easy. As we see a mullet adorned doppelgänger version of Cooper engage in a tirade of crime and violence across the states, the real Agent Cooper, or at least that part of his soul that’s trapped in the embryonic limbo of a pastel phantasmagoria Vegas, seems lost in a sea of characters we’ve never met before the Return. When it comes time for that inevitable showdown, it’s quick, and the surface level battle is skimmed over so Lynch can dive into a disorienting rabbit hole in which Cooper is stoic, uncharacteristically violent, a concentrated prism of all the qualities that were separate in the worlds that came before, his psyche in narrative nursery school until Lynch hurtles past that 430 mile marker into territories with ugly truths and revelations that are hard to swallow. Two wolves fight inside every one of us, one light and one dark, but they’re only two sides of the same coin, rival essences within a single beast, and although they run along side by side, tussle occasionally and appear to be separate entities, they’re one and the same when they look in each other’s eyes, as we see in the mirror, or when we come face to face with our doppelgänger against the backdrop of a shimmering red curtain. 
Twin Peaks has always been about secrets, from the very moment that Laura Palmer’s body washed up on those shores, wrapped in plastic (or did it?). Who killed her? That one secret lead to many, and as a story unfolds that’s scope vastly captures realms far beyond the sleepy little northwestern town it began in, we see a story at play that’s so much more, one that is very much filled with secrets, a motif we were warned about almost right off the bat. “She’s filled with secrets”, the Arm gleefully imparts to Cooper. That she is. The hollow screams of a shell shocked Sarah Palmer. The haunted, weary eyes of trailer park supervisor Carl (the beloved Harry Dean Stanton). Audrey Horne sharply awakening in the frightening unknown. Cooper and Laura being foiled yet again by the powers that be (those darn Chalfonts). An empty glass box that isn’t so empty. Coordinates that nestle between shrouded mountain glades. Heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies from the maestro Angelo Badalamenti. Pages from a secret diary that document horror, madness, joy, bravery, vulnerability and an odyssey through time, space, love, evil and of course good, the secrets that keep us coming back for more each time. Lynch has spun his magnum opus here, a tale where every piece is important, even the ones we may likely never find. A testament to the power of storytelling, a treatise on the mystery genre, everything I could have hoped for in a return to the town of coffee and cherry pie, and a full on bona-fide masterwork. See you in the trees, and whatever kingdoms lie beyond them in the glow of the red curtain, the purple seas, the hum of electricity in the dreams of a homecoming queen and a lone FBI Agent on a road trip to…

TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

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Let’s discuss Showtime’s finest “original” programming and David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cataclysmic finale of the TWIN PEAKS saga. First things first, will we get another season or a standalone film that is akin to FIRE WALK WITH ME? Probably not, no. Sure, stranger things have happened, but it’s more than likely we will not get another visual TWIN PEAKS story, and may not even get another film from Lynch himself. This very well could be it for both Peaks and Lynch.

What does the final season mean? What does it answer in the twenty-five-year absence? What happened to Cooper at the end? Honestly, none of that really matters, does it? The more diehard fans of both Lynch and his seminal series with Mark Frost, are not looking for answers, one could say that they are just seeking more unfulfilled questions that will keep them returning to the Peaks canon over a series of years, if not decades.

One thing is apparently clear from THE RETURN. Lynch’s obsession with dreams and a parallel reality which is all rolled into lifelong inspiration, THE WIZARD OF OZ. OZ deals very much in dreams, a parallel reality, and one’s journey back home or at the very least the center of their own reality. There are a plethora of motifs and nods to the film within the series.

THE RETURN isn’t very much like the original series, aside from a string of arcs from beloved characters. What truly perpetuates the main narrative is FIRE WALK WITH ME, which is even more of an important component of the mythology of TWIN PEAKS than ever.

David Bowie’s brief cameo as time traveling Blue Rose Task Force Special Agent Phillip Jeffries became the great and powerful Oz of THE RETURN. He spoke in a method of half riddles, through puffs of steam coming from a percolator.  Sadly, David Bowie was not able to start and complete his scheduled scenes, so instead actor Nathan Frizzell was cast as the voice of Jeffries, and even overdubbed Jeffries’ dialogue from FIRE WALK WITH ME and THE MISSING PIECES. Regardless of the lack of David Bowie, Lynch was able to bring him back into the spotlight, not only in the foreground of the new series but also as the pop culture icon that he had always been.

 

Without diving into the Lynchian mathematics that is near impossible to solve within THE RETURN, the series ends itself exactly where it began. Cooper is in the Lodge, speaking with Mike and with Laura Palmer whispering in his ear. What does that all mean? It means that Cooper is looped inside of his own dream, within the Black Lodge, and with this reveal, it certainly calls the entire run of this season into question, and makes us ask ourselves what is the reality of the show? Is the reality we saw outside the Black Lodge a tangible reality, a parallel reality, or is it fictitious and all conjured up within Dale Cooper’s head as his sits in the Black Lodge?

David Lynch and Mark Frost brought the season back to where it began and left the audience with a bigger question than what was originally asked. They not only created the finest television event of the year but possibly ever. They have crafted an alluring, taut, and downright haunting story that has no end.

 

Twin Peaks: on the eve of revival – a rambling write-up by Nate Hill


When I first discovered David Lynch’s Twin Peaks some ten years ago, I was hooked from that first lilting chord of the opening theme, a Pacific Northwest lullaby that dreamily pulled back a red curtain to reveal the mesmerizing realm of sawmills, Douglas firs, cherry pie, secrets, metaphysics, owls, murder mysteries, eccentricities, FBI Agents, roadside diners and so much more. There was nothing quite like it under the sun. Lynch had tapped into the intangible flavour in the ice cream parlour, an undefinable conduit to the subconscious, an emotional fever dream of haunting music, beautiful storytelling and vivid, compelling character arcs, and I knew from that moment on I’d be living in this world, in whatever capacity, for the rest of my life. Since then I’ve seen the entire run of seasons one and two at least thirty to forty times, and watched Fire Walk With Me, Lynch’s big screen masterpiece and companion song to the show, even more. Twin Peaks is the one thing I can revisit at any crux of the story, during any phase of my life, and it will always draw me right back in like the beckoning grove of sycamore trees who stand as sentinels to the great beyond lying just around the bend in the woods. There was just one problem with it all: the show was tragically cancelled on the penultimate beat, a cosmic cliffhanger that left fans reeling and plunged the legacy into exile for decades, a vacuum left in air that once housed a worldwide phenomenon, which is the only way to describe what season one did not just for television, but for the arts themselves, a thunderous ripple effect that has inspired generations of fan culture and adoration. To quote another film that finds its home in the trees, “If you ride like lightening, you’re going to crash like thunder”, which in a way is what happened to Twin Peaks. That lightening was captured in a bottle, which unfortunately shattered to shards via a combination of network interference and creative differences. Needless to say, the thought of a possible return to the show was beyond low on my list of things that could happen, right down there next to dinosaur cloning. Life finds a way though, and so apparently does Lynch. When it was announced that he had struck a deal with Showtime for an epic eighteen episode return to those Douglas firs, the internet nearly imploded upon itself. The golden age of television had just gone platinum, for Twin Peaks is the cornerstone of a generation of storytelling, a mile marker of stylistic structure and expression that gave life to countless other legacies in its wake. If any fragmented, incomplete tale deserves another day in court, it’s Peaks. For a while we sat on our hands and held our breath, the words ‘too good to be true’ ringing around in our heads. After a few hitches in the giddyup, however, and some three years of development later, we have arrived on the day that the new season premieres, and it still hasn’t set in for me. Eighteen brand new episodes. All written and directed by the man himself. A titanic sized cast of Twin Peaks residents both old and new, from every walk of Hollywood, genre town, music world and indie-ville. It definitely does seem to good to be true, and yet here we are, on the eve of a television paradigm shift. Any new fans who have hurriedly made their way through the original series run for the first time should pause for a moment and realize just how infinitely lucky we are to get this, how special this truly is, and will be for the entire summer. I feel as though this will be the second wave of Lynch’s magnum opus, a stroke of creative brilliance that has come full circle, and in just a few hours time those beloved chords will once again flow out from our television screens, as the journey continues onward to a destination whose coordinates Lynch guards like Pandora’s Box. Come what may, I will be tuned in to whatever the man and his team of actors, artists and musicians have in store for us. See you in the trees.

-Nate Hill

Harlan County War: A Review by Nate Hill

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Harlan County War is a rare little TV movie that takes a partly fictional look at the union wars in rural Kentucky during the 1970’s, when a plucky band of coal miners and their wives took to the picket line in attempt to establish better working and living conditions. The story and title of the film have roots in the union wars of the 1930’s, which set the stage for this tale. Holly Hunter plays Ruby Kincaid, wife of Silas (Ted Levine) a miner who suffers through the harsh labor everyday. The townspeople are tired of the injuries, the deaths and the deadly black lung infections, and are given reluctant hope when compassionate union official Warren Jakopovich (Stellen Skarsgard) arrives to their county, promising change. Many locals are skeptical due to past corruption and disloyalty, but soon the company gets nasty and they realize that Jakopovich may be their only chance. Hunter is as fired up as she always is, her accent thicker than the moonshine everyone swills. I tracked this film down for Levine (Skarsgard too), and this is one of the best roles he’s ever gotten. He’s usually in character parts like the violent thug, stern general, gruff cowboy or yes, the skin stealing serial killer. Here he’s just a plain rural family man, a good hearted fellow who wants the best for his kin and county. Levine works wonders playing it straight here and I wish he’d get thrown more meaty and down to earth roles like this. Skarsgard can jump between being the most terrifying psychopath to the most comforting, sympathetic characters, and plays Jakopovich with compassion and dogged determination. The character building scenes between the three actors is brilliant. I feel like there’s a longer edit out there somewhere, because it jumps a bit and forgets to address one plot turn entirely, but alas it’s a tough one to affordably track down and this is the only version I could get. It’s made for TV and that shows at the seams sometimes, but it’s still solid drama about something important, and crafted very well.