The Biden crime family?

Michael Corleone in The Godfather II

At a campaign stop over the weekend, President Trump declared, “The Biden family is a criminal enterprise.”

I’m not sure if Joe Biden has much in common with either Vito or Michael Corleone; but Hunter Biden might be a combination of Fredo and Sonny.

I generally dislike hyperboles—whomever they’re about. The Bidens are not the Gambinos or the Luccheses. But there are serious questions about Joe Biden’s influence peddling as a sitting Vice President of the United States under Obama. It is difficult to imagine why Burisma would have hired Hunter Biden—who was drummed out of the U.S. Navy for cocaine use—at a rate of $83,000 per month.

Questions like this have been asked about other presidents of both parties. The Clinton Administration was an endless litany of financial and sexual scandals, from Whitewater to Monicagate. And of course, President Trump’s sex life was the topic of much speculation back in 2016.

The Biden secrets may or may not be serious enough to disqualify Joe Biden for the White House. The problem is that the mainstream media—and the closely aligned social media oligopoly—have imposed a virtual gag rule on any information that could be harmful to the Biden campaign.

Just last week, both Twitter and Facebook actively suppressed the New York Post story about Joe Biden’s communications with Burisma. The moderator for Joe Biden’s town hall forum, George Stephanopoulos, didn’t even ask the former vice president about the matter.

A concerted, blatant effort to squelch difficult questions and suppress news stories naturally creates the impression that they’re hiding something, and that whatever they’re hiding must be something really big.

Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t. If there is nothing to hide, the media would do well to address troubling aspects of Joe Biden’s record openly. But with a little more than two weeks remaining before Election Day, our mainstream and social media institutions have instead opted for a wall of silence. Maybe, they must think, none of the bumpkins in the flyover states will notice.

Lovecraft Country: quick review (through episode 3)

When I first heard about Lovecraft Country, I was intrigued. The premise of the show is: a group of African Americans traveling across segregated America in the early 1950s, dodging white racists and Lovecraftian monsters. 

There is a lot about this show that I liked: To begin with, it is superbly cast. Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett have a good chemistry as the two leads. The main characters are also likable. The attention to period detail (in the sets, etc.) is suburb. As the first episode opened, I really felt like I was transported back to the early 1950s. 

I enjoyed the first episode, too. But things started to fall apart midway through episode 2, and they collapsed in episode 3.

For one thing, after episode 1, the plot lines became not scary or suspenseful, but simply weird. By episode 3, the writers were moving the characters from one disjointed sex scene to another. (This is usually a sign that the writers have run out of ideas.) The plot went in random directions, without much structure at all.

Also, the Jim Crow/race angle. Racists of the Jim Crow era have long been stock villains of various movies, novels, and TV shows. The racial injustices in America during the 1950s were real and ever-present for African Americans. I get that; I’m not disputing it.

Good villains, however, should not be cartoon characters. Unfortunately, that’s what the human villains in Lovecraft Country became (very early on, I might add): the same old sputtering, dimwitted stock bigots that we’ve all seen in a hundred movies and television shows about the much-traversed topic of Race in America. It was as if the writers were afraid to give the villains any sophistication or wits at all (lest they appear sympathetic), and so they made them into caricatures. 

I really wanted to enjoy Lovecraft Country. This is a brilliant premise, but it is poorly executed. The show’s producers couldn’t seem to make up their minds whether Lovecraft Country should be straight horror series, a comedy-horror production, or yet another cinematic reminder that many white Americans were really, really racist in the 1950s. The final result is a show that isn’t scary, is often confusing, and is well…somewhat boring. 

I may give the series another try at a later date. But despite a few promising glimmers, the storyline and overall direction of Lovecraft Country are just too unfocused for my tastes. The writers owed Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett much better scripts. 

‘Hanna’ (Amazon Prime series): quick review

I just finished watching the two available seasons of Hanna on Amazon Prime. Hanna is based on a 2011 film of the same name.

This is the setup: A CIA program called  UTRAX alters a group of children’s DNA, in order to transform them into super-soldiers/covert assassins. (In the series, at least, all of the UTRAX program’s subjects are young women.)

Most of the girls (who are coming of age as the series opens) are happy enough to go along with the program. They have known nothing else, after all. But one, the eponymous Hanna, rebels. She is aided by former CIA agent Erik Heller, who is a surrogate father figure to her.

The Bourne Identity with teenage girls/young women, then. Hanna is both a coming-of-age drama and a conspiracy thriller. That could have been a disastrous combination. Thankfully, it isn’t. Continue reading “‘Hanna’ (Amazon Prime series): quick review”

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (first impressions)

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, a new Showtime series in the horror/dark fantasy genre.

In pre-WWII Los Angeles, much is going on: The LAPD is finding mutilated bodies in the dry concrete basin of the Los Angeles River. Dark entities from Mexican folklore are causing mayhem. Corrupt city officials and law enforcement officers are waging war against LA’s chicano population. The chicano population is waging war back, led by zoot-suited gangsters.

And (of course) the Nazis are maneuvering in the background, doing the sorts of violent and underhanded things that Nazis always do. But they have to compete with out-of-town gangsters. (This is the golden age of the mafia, after all.)

I noticed that this show has very mixed viewer ratings. It’s rated 6.1/10 on IMDb, and 76% favorable on Google. This would give it a grade of “C”. 

***

Overall, I like the show. This series has a fast-moving plot, with lots of twists and turns. Something is always happening. Continue reading “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (first impressions)”

‘Bosch’ season 4: what I’m binge-watching

As I’ve written here before, I am a long-time fan of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch LAPD detective series. I’ve been reading the novels since 2004, more or less.

Since last month, I’ve been binge-watching Bosch on Amazon Prime Video, starting from season 1.

I’m now most of the way through Season 4. I’m still enjoying this original series immensely. Very, very good stuff.  

***

Season 4 is based on the Bosch novels Nine Dragons and Angels Flight

Or should I say, “inspired by” these two novels? Continue reading “‘Bosch’ season 4: what I’m binge-watching”

Watching ‘Bosch’ on Amazon

Different from the novels, but good nonetheless

Tonight I started watching the Amazon original series, Bosch

I’m a little behind on this one, I know. (The series premiered in 2015.) But hey—I got to The Sopranos only a few years ago. I am, however, a very longtime reader of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, so I knew that I would eventually find my way to the Amazon series, too.

First things first: This isn’t the Harry Bosch of the novels. The Harry Bosch of the novels is now about 70 years old. The onscreen Harry Bosch (played by Titus Welliver) is a old Gen Xer or a young Baby Boomer. (The actor, Welliver, was born in 1962.) Continue reading “Watching ‘Bosch’ on Amazon”

‘Black Sheep Squadron’: WWII with a 1970s twist

Between 1976 and 1978, Black Sheep Squadron (also known as Baa Baa Black Sheep) was one of the coolest shows on television. Yours truly was then in the 3rd and 4th grade, and I never missed an episode when I could help it. This was the show that we all talked about on the playground during recess.

Black Sheep Squadron dramatized the exploits of U.S. Marine aviator Greg “Pappy” Boyington in the Pacific during WWII. The show starred Robert Conrad (who died earlier this month), but the real Greg Boyington made cameo appearances in several episodes. (See the video embedded above.)

Black Sheep Squadron was not a serious show, in the sense that it made no attempt to depict the real-life horrors of World War II combat, or combat in general.  This was war as entertainment. But when you’re nine years old and a show has cool scenes involving  American Vought F4U Corsairs shooting down Japanese zeroes, you can make allowances for such crimes of dramatic license. 

I recently caught a few old episodes of Black Sheep Squadron on cable. Watching the show at the age of 52 (as opposed to 9), I still find it entertaining. But it’s a far cry from HBO’s The Pacific

‘Dark Shadows’, the original novel

One rainy afternoon during the summer of 1982, I found myself out in the country in a double-wide trailer. My only real source of entertainment was an old Zenith television set that received but two or three channels. (I’ll spare you the backstory of all that.)

It was on this day that I discovered—quite by accident—that old vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows

And yes, Dark Shadows, which originally aired from 1966 to 1971, was old even then. I was skeptical as the opening credits played. But like I said, this was a rainy summer afternoon and I had no other sources of diversion. I gave this old show a chance…

And I discovered that…Dark Shadows was pretty darn good. 

Not quite a horror show, not quite a conventional drama, Dark Shadows is filled with interesting characters and intrigue. I don’t like Dark Shadows nearly as much as I like some modern series like The Americans or The Sopranos (two other serial dramas about families with secrets); but this is still quite impressive for television that was written and produced when I was a babe in diapers.

So when the audiobook of Marilyn Ross’s original Dark Shadows novel was on sale recently, I decided to give it a try. 

The novel is pretty good, too. Once again, this is entertainment from another era; and you have to judge it for what it is. But here, too, the story of Victoria Winters’s interactions with the mysterious Collins family is well, oddly captivating. 

If you’re in the mood for something a little different, this might be for you. 

68 Whiskey: M*A*S*H for the War on Terror?

68 Whiskey, a new show on the Paramount Network, is a comedy-drama about American military personnel serving at a mobile medical outpost in a combat zone.

Sound familiar? If you think this sounds a lot like M*A*S*H (1972 – 1983), you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But 68 Whiskey is set in the present day in Afghanistan, and the overall vibe is different from that old favorite of the 1970s and early 1980s.

The tone of 68 Whiskey is a lot like The Sopranos (1999-2007), in that it injects black humor into what would ordinarily be serious subject matter. Like The Sopranos, 68 Whiskey features a moderately suspenseful, ongoing storyline, alongside deadpan deliveries of dialogue and situations that are intended to make the viewer chuckle.

How else does 68 Whiskey compare to M*A*S*H, that long-running comedy-drama about the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea?

First of all, the creators of M*A*S*H had the discretion, when dealing with the touchy balancing act of satirizing war, to put some distance between the present and their subject matter. M*A*S*H debuted in 1972, just as America’s war in Vietnam was winding down. M*A*S*H definitely tapped into the pessimistic  zeitgeist of the Nixon years, when many Americans were cynical about our institutions.

But M*A*S*H was set in the Korean War—then twenty years in the past. 68 Whiskey, by contrast, deals with a conflict that is still very much a present and going concern.

It was one thing to laugh at the antics Hawkeye and Trapper John when the veterans of the Korean War were all in their forties or fifties. It’s another thing to laugh at a war which still produces some American casualties, and produced quite a lot just a few short years ago.

As with M*A*S*H, 68 Whiskey presents a generally unflattering view of the military. Officers are depicted as venal and buffoonish. Personnel of the lower ranks are more concerned with scams and hedonism than with their jobs.

This is what satire is all about, of course. But the question is: How well will such satire go over? I would expect that some recent military veterans will take exception to the portrayals of them and their comrades in this show.

Also, the sex in the show is overdone. The first episode opens with a scene of two soldiers (a man and a woman) copulating atop an empty shelf in a storage room. Sex was certainly implied in M*A*S*H, but this was borderline softcore porn. 

I’m now in my fifties, and there isn’t much that shocks me at this stage in life. But I know from experience that an over-reliance on sexual titillation (unless it is an actual porn film) is usually a sign of lazy screenwriting. This aspect of the show struck me as self-indulgent. Or—to put it another way: Just because you can say words like “dick” and “clit” on cable TV, that doesn’t mean that you actually should.

Despite its flaws, 68 Whiskey is entertaining. The characters (even if they aren’t complimentary representations of Americans in uniform) are distinctive and likable. The action sequences contain enough humor to keep things light, but not so much humor that you lose your ability to suspend your disbelief. I’ve finished watching the first episode, and I’m eager to see episode #2.

‘Deputy’: new crime drama on Fox

I’ve started watching Deputy, a new crime series on Fox. 

Deputy is a genre blend—of the old-style Western, and the gritty, modern police procedural.

The premise is this: a fifth-generation, old-school lawman named Bill Hollister (Stephen Dorf) suddenly becomes the acting sheriff of Los Angeles County. He must contend with ICE raids, human traffickers and drug gangs, as well as media who are hostile to the police. 

Oh, and his personal security deputy is a Millennial, non-binary lesbian (Bex Taylor-Klaus).

The show opens on a controversial note, as Hollister (hours before he’s named sheriff) is called on the carpet for interfering with an ICE raid. Hollister believes that if LA County deputies cooperate with ICE, they won’t be able to maintain the trust of the large immigrant community in the area. 

I don’t agree with every point that the creators of Deputy are trying to make, but I admire the way in which they’re going about it.  This show throws a lot of stuff at the wall—a lot of issues, and a lot of action and conflict. Most of it works. 

This is a show that makes a serious attempt to address the ambiguities and culture wars of the twenty-first century. The arguments made herein won’t completely please anyone. While Hollister is clearly opposed to ICE roundups of illegal immigrants, he channels Dirty Harry when going after bad guys—of all races and ethnicities.

Bill Hollister will delight the most diehard Clint Eastwood fans. Progressive viewers, meanwhile, finally get a show that champions at least some of their priorities, that isn’t a total borefest. 

So far: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Vintage ‘Magnum P.I.’ on Hallmark

It still like the original version…

About a year ago I wrote a quick review of the rebooted version of Magnum P.I. that’s now in its second season on CBS. 

As I wrote in 2018, I like the new Magnum. Jay Hernandez does a fine job in the titular role, and I don’t mind the decision to make Higgins a female character in the 21st century reboot. (Perdita Weeks arguably makes the show.  And the chemistry between Hernandez and Weeks is even better than the old banter between Selleck and Hillerman.) Moreover, Tom Selleck is now in his seventies. He’s in good shape for a man that age; but Thomas Magnum is clearly a role for an actor in his prime. Old school though I am, I wasn’t about to make the case for casting Selleck in the rebooted version of this 1980s weekly crime show.

That said, I recently noticed that episodes of the original Magnum P.I., which ran from 1980 to 1988, were playing on the Hallmark Channel. I watched a few of them to see how they would hold up to the test of time.

The good news is: quite well. Yes, some of those 80s fashions are cringeworthy today—even to an 80s relic like me. But the scriptwriting and the action are still engaging. 

Magnum P.I. always had a lighthearted aspect. This is, therefore, light entertainment. Magnum P.I. never had any pretensions of being thought-provoking or heavy. That was as true in the vintage series as it is in the reboot.

I watched many episodes of the show back in the 1980s, but not all of them, by any means. For me, the years 1980 through 1988 comprised  junior high through the middle of college. This was before video-on-demand and DVRs. Sometimes I tuned in, and sometimes I didn’t. 

But it’s been more than 30 years since the last vintage Magnum P.I. episode was broadcast for the first time. I don’t remember any of the storylines, really. I am therefore having a good time watching them again, as if for the first time.

‘Treadstone’ is not to be missed

I’ve been watching the USA Network’s Treadstone. Loosely based on the premise of the Jason Bourne novels, Treadstone is an ambitious espionage action/adventure series with deep-cover agents, international locations, and multilayered plots.

I had been anxiously waiting for something like this. Since The Americans ended last year, there hasn’t really been much on television in the espionage genre.

Like The Americans, Treadstone involves a complex, ongoing story. It might be possible to jump in anywhere and begin watching; but you’re advised to start with the first episode and work your way forward.

The producers of Treadstone also take pains to make the show authentic—down to the details of language. Characters in North Korea actually speak Korean. When the action crosses over to China, they speak Mandarin. (There is even a storyline set in Hungary in 1973, and these characters speak Hungarian.)

I would like to see more television like this. I’m sick of goofy superhero retreads, and endless stories about teens performing magic.

Treadstone is an engaging series for an adult audience. I don’t like Treadstone quite as much as I liked The Americans, but I like it a lot. 

Stephen King adaptations

Not all of them are equal, as an article in The Boston Herald reminds us.

The article includes a list of must-see Stephen King adaptations.

I have one  quibble with the list. The 1994 TV miniseries adaptation of The Stand (starring Molly Ringwald and Gary Sinese) is not included.

Yes, it aired 25 years ago. Nevertheless, that was a top-notch television adaptation of very complex and visually challenging piece. 

‘The Pacific’: HBO

I’m watching The Pacific on HBO. This series is a significant investment in time, but well worth it. 

There haven’t been nearly enough films and novels about the Pacific war. World War II movies and fiction tend to gravitate to the war in Europe.

Perhaps that’s to be expected. The war in Europe took place in the middle of Western Civilization, in countries that everyone is familiar with: France, Germany, Russia, etc.

And, of course: Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Probably half the documentaries on the History Channel are about the Third Reich. 

Much of the war in the Pacific (the part that we were involved in, anyway), was fought on thinly populated, remote islands. While the ideology of the Third Reich is well known to anyone with even basic historical literacy, few Americans grasp the essentials of the Japanese Empire, and its major players. 

Those are among the reasons why the war in the Pacific has been such a challenge to storytellers, and–as a result–often neglected by them. But this HBO series does a great job of bringing “the other World War II” to life.