Binge-worthy

I prefer movies to tv shows. But occasionally I strike gold with a tv series. “Lonesome Dove,” “The Sopranos,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood,” HBO’s “Rome.” And now “Downton Abbey.” And when I watched these, it was like reading a great novel.

For six seasons, PBS gave us an updated version of “Upstairs Downstairs.” Only this one was in a great house in the country. While “Upstairs Downstairs” covered the twenty-seven years from 1903 to 1930, the “Downton Abbey” years are 1912 to 1926. But both series have one thing in common, the tremendous changes in British society and how its people, including the aristocracy, had to adapt. Throughout the series, the devastation of World War One, the changing role for women, and the new job opportunities for the working class will play an important part in the story of Downtown Abbey.

“Downton Abbey” is a family story with all the challenges, conflicts and triumphs that families have. Though there is an upstairs and a downstairs, we come to see that downstairs is as much a part of the family as upstairs.

Downton Abbey is the home of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). They live at Downton with their three daughters, Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Sybil). Downstairs are the butler, Carson (Jim Carter), the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). Daisy the cook’s maid (Sophie McShera) and the footman Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). And watching over this household is the Dowager Violet Crawley, Lord Robert’s mother (Maggie Smith), just down the way.

In the opening season, Lord Robert learns that his heir lost his life on the Titanic. Since a woman cannot inherit the estate, Robert must find a distant relative for an heir. And it is preferable that Lady Mary marry this heir. Otherwise she will be out on her own with only small inheritance.

A crippled man, John Bates (Brendan Coyle), joins the household staff as his lordship’s valet. Thomas believes the job should be rightfully his. And he will do everything he can to bring Bates down.

Meanwhile the youngest daughter takes up with the new chauffeur (Allen Leech). Lady Edith, the middle daughter, seems to have trouble bursting out of her wallflower role. And Lady Mary resists all efforts to put her together with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens).

Then comes World War One and Downton must do its part for King and Country.

As the seasons roll along, we come to care about these people and their problems as much as we would our own families. Then we’re finished with the six seasons and the movie and we’re finding ourselves longing for the good old days of Downton Abbey.

Uncle Bardie in TV Land

I’m not much of a TV guy. Given a choice between a good TV show or a good movie, the movie wins every time. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a television show’s ability to come into my home and make itself at home.

When I do choose a TV show or series, I have one criteria: Do I want to spend that much time with these people? To answer that question, I usually give the show one episode. Sometimes less. Fleabag fits that criteria. Very seldom more. If I watch three episodes that means I find these people worth my time. The Boys broke that rule. One season of it, and I was done.

With that in mind, I thought I would list the top ten TV shows I enjoyed spending time with. And would still spend more time with.

1.Jeopardy (1984-present), syndication. As far as I am concerned, Alex Trebeck and Ken Jennings are the cat’s pajamas. So much so I have a small shrine to St. Alex and St. Ken on the shelf below my television.

2.The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-present), Amazon Prime. Here’s a comedy that’s actually funny. And more.

3.Newhart (1982-1990), CBS. Dr. Bob moves to Vermont and gets a new wife. He’s running an inn with the help of handyman George and “My name is Larry. And this is my brother Daryl and this is my other brother Daryl.

4.Mom (2013-present), CBS. You don’t have to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous to enjoy this one.

5.Seinfeld (1989-1998), NBC. Who knew nothing could be so funny.

6.Northern Exposure (1990-1995), CBS. If ever there was a show about community, this tale of small town Alaska is it.

7.The Expanse (2015-present), Amazon Prime. One of the best science fiction series on television. Ever.

8.Lonesome Dove (1989), CBS. May be just about the best Western ever.

9.West Wing (1999-2006), NBC. Who knew that politics could be so interesting.

10.The Muppet Show (1976-1981), syndication. Jim Henson was a genius.

There are others like Gilligan’s Island and Dick Cavett which I remember fondly but these are the ones that have held up over the years, for me.

What about Game of Thrones? some might ask. The series was fun while it lasted. But no way am I going to do a re-do and sit through another Winter. Winter has come and gone and I’m ready for Spring.

10 favorite moments in acting

Every so often I watch a movie or tv show and the actor(s) take my breath away with their performance. But it’s more than a performance. The actors have created life on film. This blog post recognizes ten of those incredible moments.

  1. Judd Hirsch and Wallace Shawn as brothers in Season 20, Episode 10 of “Law and Order Special Victims Unit.”
  2. Emma Thompson in the HBO film, “Wit.”
  3. Kate Winslet in the movie, “The Reader.”
  4. Al Pacino in the movie, “The Merchant of Venice.”
  5. Benedict Cumberbatch in “Richard III” of ‘The Hollow Crown” series.
  6. John Hurt as John Merrick in David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man.”
  7. Whoopi Goldberg in the movie, “The Color Purple.”
  8. Donald Sutherland in the movie, “Ordinary People.”
  9. Andy Griffith in the movie, “A Face in the Crowd.”
  10. Geoffrey Rush in the movie, “Final Portrait.”

Perhaps you have a favorite acting performance that moved you. Please feel free to mention it in the comments below.

The Three Ems

The Three Ems is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime.

Joel Maisel has the perfect life. He has a great job. He makes beaucoup amounts of dough at the job. He has a great wife, the perfect housewife fifties-style. He has two great kids. He has a great apartment in a great city. New York City to be exact.

Yet it isn’t enough. Joel isn’t happy.

He has a dream. He wants to be a stand-up comedian. He’s wanted this since he was a kid. He wants it so bad he is doing stand-up at The Gaslight Cafe in New York City and he is using Bob Newhart’s material. Because “this is the way comedians get their start.”

When Midge, his wife, finds out, she insists he do his own material. Maybe a bit on his sweater. It has holes in it. He takes a risk. He steps off the cliff with the sweater bit. He doesn’t fly because he just isn’t funny.

But Midge is. When Joel leaves her because his stand-up doesn’t stand-up, she gets smashed, loaded, drunk. She walks onto The Gaslight Cafe stage and has the audience rofl-ing. As Jackie Gleason used to say, “Away we go.”

Fpr tjhe rest of Season One, Midge, the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, has to learn how to do stand-up sober. Along the way, she gets some help, and bail money, from the legendary Lenny Bruce before he was the legendary Lenny Bruce. And she has to prove herself in 1950s America when women were not allowed to be funny. They were housewives.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the real deal. Mrs. Maisel is hysterically funny. Besides that, she is laughing-out-loud funny. And Rachel Brosnahan nails the role. In addition to a great lead, Amazon has surrounded her with an outstanding casts. There’s the wonderful Tony Shalhoub as Abe, her father; Alex Borstein as her agent, and friend, Susie Myerson; Michael Zegen as Joel Maisel, her ex; Marin Hinkle as her mother, Rose; and Luke Kirby is Lenny Bruce.

The creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” have given me two great seasons to binge on. I can’t way to crawl back into the Amazon time machine in December and return to 1950s America. Maybe, just maybe, John Kennedy will be elected President and Midge will get a spot on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Who knows? She might get the chance to share the stage with The Beatles.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie Spotlight: Let the binge-ing begin.

ANNOUNCEMENT: For the last few years, I have spotlighted Creators, Music and Movies on a regular basis. Doing three or four blog posts a week takes up quite a bit of time. Unfortunately this has left me with less time to devote to longer project such as a noir novel called The Man Without a Tie and longer short stories such as Jesus Junction.

Beginning next week, I have decided to cut back to two blog posts a week.Those blog posts will be my anchor post on Sunday and my Wednesday post. From time to time, I will spotlight a creative artist, a movie and a song. Those will be included as a part of the Sunday and Wednesday posts.

I want to thank all my Readers who continue to follow and read Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such. So read on and enjoy the entertainment for today.

This week’s Spotlight Movie is the TV series, “The White Queen” (2013):

George R. R. Martin has said that his “Game of Thrones” was partially based on a series of English civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses. Now that you’ve completed your “Game of Thrones” viewing and you’re thirsty for another series, maybe a series based on the inspiration might be just the thing. I recommend “The White Queen”.

“The White Queen” is a ten episode miniseries adapted from Philippa Gregory’s trilogy of what she calls “The Cousins’ War”: The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of wars from 1455 to 1487. Two families, the Lancasters (the red rose) and the Yorks (the white rose), fought for the English throne. They were two rival branches of the House of Plantagenet.

But the rivalry didn’t start in 1455. It originated under the reign of mad king Richard II back in the Bad Old Days of the 1300s. King Richard exiled and stole the lands of Henry of Bolinbroke. Henry returned to England to reclaim his estate as Duke of Lancaster. Finding Richard unpopular, he did a why-not and crowned himself King Henry IV. After all, he had as much right to the throne as any of the other contenders, and he had the army.

Though there were uprisings during his reign, England was mostly at peace during his years and the years of his son, Henry V. When Henry V died at thirty-six, his son, and heir, Henry VI was only nine months old. While waiting for Henry to grow up, a Council of Regency ran things. When Henry became an adult, he was not a very good king, and things went from not-so-good to bad to worse.

The Yorks became fed up and went to war against the crown. They were just as Plantagenet as the Lancasters. At first, the Yorkist Richard, Duke of Gloucester, only wanted to get rid of Henry’s bad advisers. After a while, he decided he could do the king job much better than Henry. During one of the battles, Richard was killed. His son, Edward, took over the leadership and eventually defeated Henry and the Lancasters.

Much of this part of the story can be found in Shakespeare’s plays, Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, Henry V, Henry VI Parts One, Two and Three, and Richard III. Seven of these plays have recently become two excellent BBC series.

It is at this point that “The White Queen” picks up the story, a part of the story left out of Shakespeare’s plays.

One fine day, Edward is out doing Edward stuff. Chasing down the bad Lancastrians, going from here to there recruiting more troops. He comes across the widow, Elizabeth Woodville, and he is smitten. She is not only a Lancaster. She is also a commoner. Not the kind of wife a king should have. Not only does his mom disapprove, his buddy-in-arms, Warwick, isn’t happy either. He has other plans for the new king. He is to marry a French princess.

But Mel Brooks summed it up best when he said, “It’s good to be the king.” Edward decides he doesn’t want to learn French. He marries “the witch” and tells his subjects, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” You’d think that would be the end of it. You’d think there’d be no more civil war. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. It’s Game of Thrones English style.