Author Archives: Howard Megdal

James Gandolfini Remembered

NAVA BRAHE: When The Sopranos premiered on HBO in January 1999, it was a very interesting time in my life.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Well said, Nava, and I don’t disagree with any of it. I just wanted to add my thoughts on just how much range I believe Gandolfini had as an actor, above and beyond the extraordinary set of emotions he deployed as Tony Soprano. Continue reading

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Mad Men: Week 1 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: What an odd taste that first episode left in our mouths. In typical Matthew Weiner fashion, the premiere episode of this penultimate season of “Mad Men” teased us with fragmented tidbits of the lives of our heroes. The confusion that left us in a wide-eyed scowl derived from many sources, some of which were the constant references to mortality, death, suicide (Don still feeling guilty after the death of Lane Pryce?), loss, hunger, and change. A bit forced, yes, but these themes gave us goosebumps as we crept into a new season that has already given us so much to process.

NAVA BRAHE: I must disclaim this, my first “Mad Men” review, by saying that I did a marathon catch-up on the series by watching all five seasons in the span of about three weeks. That’s a lot of Don Draper to contend with in a relatively short period of time, but it was worth it. Sonia once told me that she thought the series was the best on television, and I have to agree. I also have to acknowledge that Matthew Weiner borrowed heavily from David Chase’s Sopranos playbook, and I will explain how.

HOWARD MEGDAL: I am largely in sync with both of you; my primary irritation in the first episode stems from missing a trio of great characters, perhaps my favorites on the show: Joan, along with Mr. and Mrs. Pete Campbell. Continue reading

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Downton Abbey: Week 6 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: This week’s double dose of “Downton Abbey” was one of the best episodes (well, technically two best) that I have seen this season. Minus the pointlessness of Cousin Rose (seriously, I don’t want to know what they’re going to do with her thoroughly obnoxious character) despite introducing us awkwardly to the fabulous underground party world of London in the 1920s, many very interesting story points were introduced. Characters often stuck in their ways proved to have more complexity than their starched exteriors often allow. Relationships developed and grew with a surprising level of intimacy, trust, and knowledge. And finally, we got to see Carson playing cricket. With so much to possibly focus on in this episode, I’m going to tackle a few points that I have been particularly interested in all season.

NAVA BRAHE: Since Sonia tackled the Thomas issue in such depth, all I will add is that Lord Grantham’s admission of having to rebuff what sounded like countless advances from his Eton classmates, sounded rather hollow. You would think that a man of his standing would be more homophobic than he was portrayed, especially given his resistance to change.

HOWARD MEGDAL: I think of Cousin Rose as the lone blemish on an otherwise delightful Downton Abbey. Julian Fellowes has birthed many characters we adore; indeed, it is their company I believe so many of us who watch Downton Abbey are seeking out, not some new plot twist. Continue reading

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Downton Abbey: Week 5 in Review

NAVA BRAHE: Oh, the poor Crawley family. The fact that they had to make a show of it by keeping the stereotypical stiff upper lip in the face of Sybil’s death really got under my skin. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little keening or wailing under the circumstances: a 24 year-old girl is struck down in the prime of her life, leaving behind a grieving husband, family, and a newborn child (not to mention a houseful of well-meaning servants) who will never her know her, is deserving of some screaming, crying, and the flinging of breakable objects. Then again, I am not British, and I am sometimes known to wear my heart on my sleeve. Of course, in the best of British families, behavior like I just described would lead to banishment in the attic. Or, to one of the attics if you reside at Downton.

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: In echoing Nava’s observation of the emotional constipation of this episode, I found the stiffness in the days following Sybil’s death to be just fascinating to watch. Frustrating, of course, also from an American perspective, but at the same time I can completely imagine the benefits of holding one’s self together for the moment, then on one’s own, in a safe place, letting it all out. But the moments of letting down their emotional guards seemed to speak volumes. Elizabeth McGovern as Cora (probably because she, along with Branson, is not keeping it together for the sake of appearances as well as Lord Grantham or Ladies Mary and Edith) is becoming the most interesting character to watch for me. The intensity of her gaze at Dr. Clarkson in the Dowager Countess’s parlor was numbing and beautiful, punctuated by her mutual breakdown with Lord Grantham at realizing Sybil’s death could not have been prevented. It was a solid moment of emotional breakthrough for the two of them which, in recalling previous seasons having gone through it all from affairs to miscarriages to potentially fatal illness, puts them once more back together as a couple who truly loves each other.

HOWARD MEGDAL: We tend to agree on these episodes broadly, so I’m surprised that I took so much more pleasure from this episode than any other this season, or apparently, than the two of you. Continue reading

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Downton Abbey: Week 3 in Review

NAVA BRAHE: Lady Mary is becoming as annoying to me as someone flushing the toilet while I am taking a shower. Now that Matthew has “invested” in Downton, she seems to have become more uptight, rather than relieved by the fact that her ancestral home and lavish lifestyle are no longer in limbo. The scene in the newly commandeered sitting room was telling, when her dismissive attitude reared its ugly head at the thought of becoming pregnant. Now that Matthew has cemented his position as both heir and savior of Downton, of course he wants offspring of his own. Is Mary afraid there won’t be enough funds to hire the army of nannies she would require to rear her children?

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: One of the major criticisms that this show has received is its supposed glorification of the upper classes with a seemingly complacent attitude from the servants. Though I can see where these critics are coming from, I have always defended “Downton Abbey” saying that the commentary on the British class system is subtle and not overbearing, but ever present. Episode Three, however, seemed to address these issues of class head on. As Nava stated, the Branson/Sybil plotline meshing with the Ethel tragedy provided the loudest roar I have ever heard from “downstairs.” I sincerely hope episodes with intricacies like these continue this season, because I am growing very tired of Mary’s icy demeanor and incessant snobbishness.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Agree with both Nava and Sonia that this is a dramatic improvement on last week; Julian Fellowes, at last, takes some time from racing through plot and allows the complicated characters in Downton time to breathe. Remembering Season 1, when luxuriating in their presence was the overriding pleasure of the show, would do Fellowes good as he plans future episodes. Continue reading

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CNN Reimagined

AKIE BERMISS: I’ve recently adopted a new coping mechanism for all the terrible news programs out there.  I now categorized my news sources in three basic groups.  There is the “What Is Happening” category – which is purely informative.  No…

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Akin

by Cindy Hill

Stupid remarks by public officials — or anyone, really — are an extremely useful and important segment of public discourse. Why? They let you know what’s really going on in their heads.

A few years ago, when…

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Modern Family: Baby on Board – Season Finale

KIP MOONEY: Now that’s a season finale! If only the Modern Family writers could churn out scripts like this. This season especially has shown their tendency to peak around holidays and sweeps and coast the rest of the time. But…

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Mad Men: At the Codfish Ball

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: “Someday she will spread her little legs and fly away.” Wow, “Mad Men.” As if the show couldn’t get more carnivalesque, the amount that we are allowed to see of male and female sexuality in this episode, in this time period, is brought to the forefront in kaleidoscopic chaos. The women are costumed as wives, mothers, whores, and go-go girls. The men put on their respective uniforms of social acceptability. Yet the tags are switched around, identities are put into question and concern. We can’t believe our ears. We can’t believe our eyes. We can’t believe that’s Peggy in an apron holding a ham. Or can we?

HOWARD MEGDAL: So much to love in this episode once again, as brilliant in emotional interplay and subtle moments as with the visual imagery Sonia broke down.
Continue reading

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Bill Maher

CHRIS PUMMER: Bill Maher’s name surfaces more and more these days for the controversial things he says. Is this how he’s staying relevant? Continue reading

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