Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jobs, Taylor and Spooks

I had a strong desire to listen to Carolina in My Mind by James Taylor this morning. It must be the time of year. November makes me nostalgically wistful and fills me with a sense of longing. Because I don't actually own the song, I went to Youtube to have a listen and whilst there made another discovery. James Taylor reminds me of Steve Jobs.

Sure there's the superficial similarity of a glossy round head, but its more than that. I see deeper resemblance in the chin, eyebrows, nose and sharp, brilliant eyes. Both were visionaries with soft voices and deeply moving intelligence and they may share a lot more than just physical similarities . . .  if I were to stop and think about it I could let you know.  But this post wasn't really supposed to be about them.

Instead, and in addition to the Jobs/Taylor connection, I was thinking about my connections related to that song. Carolina in My Mind is meaningful--a sad and longing song with a positive message about finding what you need inside of you. Taylor said he wrote it while feeling homesick though he didn't really have a home at the time. That's an unsettling sentiment that I totally understand.

I don't know when I first became aware of this song, but sometime, while I was still very young (far too young to really know what it felt to be lonely, removed, and homesick) I first loved it. The ideas in the song touched me. And then later, as an adult, the larger force of the deep longing settled upon me while spending Christmas alone in California far from home. And still later, a few years ago, a good dear friend (who I now miss) drew the song and its message to my attention yet again.

While listening to it today, tears streamed down my cheeks thinking about that friend and I wondered: why did I feel drawn to listen to something I knew would make me sad?

And that, friends, is how I finally get around to the British tv connection and how this post has anything to do with this blog.

This week I've been getting a number of comments and e-mails from those who have felt disappointed and saddened by the Spooks ending (like so many of us were). Someone wrote to me today about being a glutton for punishment by continuing to listen to music from that series though it brought up the sad ending all over again. We all do things like this. But why?

I have to think that making ourselves sad, reveling in our grief, must somehow be a healing act. By taking the time to really feel a loss, we can start to mend at a cellular level. Dredge up the muck, before just paving over the surface. Maybe for me, the call to hear sad songs at Christmastime and have a good cry over friends and family who are gone and places we aren't able to be is a way to prepare for joy. And maybe for those who confront, head-on, their grief over how Spooks ended, will ultimately enjoy that same healing and state of calm.

Me, on the other hand. Well, I'm still not ready to do that with Spooks. I'd rather pretend that the whole last series/season didn't exist. Denial, you see ;)  Just an earlier stage of grief.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Muppets, The Movie . . . And Me

British TV may be fabulous, but it's not the only thing worth doing. Right in line with that theme, I just came from the new Muppets movie and I'll tell you this: it was great. There were as many "unaccompanied" grown ups in the audience as there were kids and most of them were laughing hard.

The movie was unusual for its continual breaking of that "4th wall" with characters referring to the earlier song numbers or making little jokes about the plot and length of the movie. The whole thing was charming, funny and self aware with lots of great cracks directed at the washed up Muppets of the olden days.

Somehow all the silliness managed to inspire real moments of wistfulness and remembrance and I was surprised to find a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes when Miss Piggy and Kermit finally reunited on stage for a rendition of The Rainbow Connection. There were lots of new songs too and many were quite excellent -- especially Man or Muppet which now plays continually in my mind (owing to the fact that we immediately bought the soundtrack) and in which Jason Segel gets to sing lines like "Am I a man or am I a Muppet?! If I'm a Muppet. .  . then I'm a very manly Muppet." He is brilliant in this role, managing to really make us believe in the strange set up.

Amy Adams too, is simply made for movies like this. She's become a Carole Burnett-like figure -- in that blatantly talented, beautiful, singing, dancing, poised and funny sort of way.

And whatever musical genius arranged Smells Like Teen Spirit for Muppet barbershop quartet needs, seriously, to win some awards. Stunningly funny.

A great many stars have cameos in the movie, including Neil Patrick Harris -- which caused me to have a major breakthrough -- I realized I get him confused with Justin Timberlake. This has happened to me before, but I never put my finger on the phenomenon until now.  I don't know if anyone else has this same Harris/Timberlake problem  -- so I am posting the following just to prove I am not crazy. (Although, maybe the following just proves that I am.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving - Possibly the Only American Cultural Holiday Tradition

Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday, for a variety of reasons I won't get into since this post is actually about why Thanksgiving is a great holiday!  This year I had a revelation that gave me a new appreciation and fondness for this day.

I realized that Thanksgiving is truly the only uniquely American cultural-event routinely celebrated by masses of Americans every year. All other major holidays in this country are religious-based (like Christmas and Easter) or political/military/social policy-based (like Veteran's Day or Washington's Birthday). The latter category is interesting and includes most of our holidays -- those designated in order to support some political or social agenda item. Not that it is always a bad idea to support social agendas with holidays, just that doing so makes them a bit different than say, a group of people choosing on its own, to be thankful.

Just to prove it, I did some research. Here is a list of all federal holidays according to USA.gov:
  • MLK Day - political/military/policy
  • Groundhog Day - close runner up
  • Valentine’s Day – celebrated all around the world
  • Washington’s Birthday – political/military/policy
  • Easter - Religious
  • Earth Day – political/military/policy
  • National Arbor Day – political/military/policy
  • Mother’s Day – enacted in 1914 to support a particular group : )
  • Memorial Day – political/military/policy
  • Flag Day – political/military/policy
  • Father’s Day – enacted in 1909 to support a particular group : )
  • Independence Day – political/military/policy
  • Labor Day – political/military/policy
  • Columbus Day – political/military/policy
  • Halloween – an odd duck
  • Veteran’s Day – political/military/policy
  • Thanksgiving
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – political/military/policy
  • Christmas - Religious
Most of these, even Mother’s and Father’s Days, were put into place in order to support some group or idea that the government felt needed supporting. Only a couple of other holidays are spontaneous celebrations of some cultural phenomenon. Thus, only Groundhog’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Halloween come close to what being what Thanksgiving is. But Groundhog’s is hardly a culturally iconic day. It’s cute. And it has a great movie. But no one celebrates it. And Valentine’s Day is actually celebrated all over the world, making it not-uniquely-American. Then there's Halloween . . . well, that's an odd one. There are roots to Halloween that border on religious, but the holiday in its current iteration is really a recent phenomenon, not a deeply embedded tradition. I don’t know what to do about it, so I’ll just disregard it : )

Next consider the religious holidays. It’s not that they too can’t have an overarching cultural significance that binds people and place together. But we have challenges in America with finding deeper cultural connectivity through religion due to our multi-cultural and -religious history. These holidays aren't what I'm talking about.  They do include cultural traditions, but are loaded with Christian significance and meaning that most people would say is (or at least pay lip service to the idea that it is) the more important focus.

So, its just Thanksgiving that has the true power to bind us in a holistic way as a nation. FN

Fn. . . Lets just get some housekeeping things out of the way. . .  First, yes I know there are many other countries and cultures that also have harvest festivals. I even know that “Thanksgiving” is celebrated in Canada and in a smattering of other countries around the world. But I am talking about “our” Thanksgiving – our pilgrims and Indians meeting in friendship and brotherhood (on that one day anyway). I also don’t want to get into how horrible the colonization of this land was. The fact of being thankful for the bounty of the land is not a by-product of evil colonization. It is just lovely and good idea. I also know that the government, at some point, put its imprimatur on Thanksgiving (just as it did with all the others) but that doesn’t convert a cultural tradition into a socio-political act. Lets not get caught up in these technical details.

I have often felt that there really is no such thing as an “American” culture and that Americans are diminished by that lack. Thanksgiving comes the closest to providing a cultural moment – with a tradition that has been celebrated in this land as long as (and longer than) there has been a “United States of America”. That is a wonderful thing to have when we have so little else culturally binding us.

Anyone in this county – anyone – can celebrate Thanksgiving with everyone else. (You don't have to be Anglo, Christian, or rich to give thanks. You don't have to like football and even vegetarians can participate.) Wow.

The beauty of the thought -- the real need that Thanksgiving fills, is in taking the time to be thankful: feeling deeply and truly our good fortune. Feeling it personally and feeling it as a nation. For no matter how bad things may seem we are most certainly among the wealthiest, most comfortable set of people to ever walk the earth.  Be aware of our great good fortune. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dorcas Lane; Dorky Name, Great Character

Who would have named their child (or their character) "Dorcas"?

Seemed a strange thing to do to someone, so I looked it up.  Turns out Dorcas is a Biblical name, so there's your answer. And apparently "that" Dorcas is such a big religious figure (and a disciple) that she even has a feast day here in the US. (So you can see how religious I am.)  Not only that, but her name means "gazelle". Wow. I guess this is all really cool! . . . Making me not just a heathen but rather a jerk for making fun of her name. . .

In any case, Dorcas Lane (great name) is a character in Lark Rise to Candleford and is fast becoming one of my favorite female roles.

Julia Sawalha plays this post-mistress -- a single woman, a community leader, a feminist and a stylish dresser. Dorcas is a warm, kind, soft, motherly woman and is also unabashedly sexy to men and gets to have a steady stream of very attractive suitors. She's honest and forthright -- not demure or shrinking -- and she's smart and funny. On top of all this she is definitely 40-something. Damn I love British tv!

Unlike in other countries (which shall for the moment remain nameless), where only 20-something women with perfect features get to be sexy and sought-after, Dorcas is a real woman on British tv. She is not flawless, but she is beautiful. (This reminds me of a running joke on the show, of Dorcas saying: "this is my one flaw" -- which changes all the time depending on whether she's applying that label to chocolate, or champagne, or meddling.) She is just like so many other real women I know. Nuanced and alive.

Proving yet again that for people who aren't too shallow to see it, 40+ is fine.

Speaking as someone who's "one flaw" is an obsession with British tv, I truly appreciate having such an astonishingly cool female character to watch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Best British Actors are Hogwarts Professors

ABC Family has been showing a Harry Potter marathon on tv. This brings several things to mind, the first of which is that every. single. stinkin'. commercial. on ABC Family's Harry Potter Marathon is CHRISTMAS related. So irritating. Come on people -- not only is it not December yet, it's not even Thanksgiving. Have a little respect. And, seriously, how can you not get burned out on Christmas when you celebrate it for 6 solid weeks?

Secondly, and maybe more important for the post I'm about to write, is that while watching all these movies it is washing over me that pretty much every major British actor is a Hogwarts professor. I would bet that the Hogwarts professors collectively represent the most impressive assemblage of talent ever. Add in other miscellaneous grown-ups in the Harry Potter movies, and I'm sure of it.

Now, this is not a piece of insight that has gone unnoticed by others. So what can I add to the blogosphere on this point? You guessed it. I just really can't help myself when it comes to ranking things, so here I go with The very best Hogwarts professors as portrayed by the very best British actors.

1. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Not only is he amazingly funny and sexy and entertaining in this role, but he just really "gets" the character of Snape. Rickman has embodied the evilness and pain so thoroughly I can hardly remember the way I imagined this character in my mind before Rickman took it over. He is and will always be Snape.

2. Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn. Mesmerizing. I can't seem to tear my eyes from Slughorn anytime he is onscreen -- which is, unfortunately far too seldom. His performance is touching and funny, charming and vulnerable; its not even that he makes Slughorn likeable, but just so damned compelling. He makes me love Slughorn in a way I never thought I would.

3. Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagal. She has it all. Great accent. Distance. Harshness masking a deep level of care. Brusk and brilliant, McGonagal has to be one of the best Harry Potter characters ever. And Smith is, as always, just flawless in her acting.
4. David Thewlis as Professor Lupin. As with Rickman/Snape, Thewlis inhabits this role in a very special way. He makes Lupin extremely appealing and sympathetic with a tremendous warm charm. I long for more of him in the movies -- but the character is unfortunately underutilized.

5.  Richard Harris as Dumbledore I. By far the better of the two Dumbledores, Harris has the lightness and wisdom down in this fleeting flitting sort of role. I don't think the physical requirements of Dumbledore are really possible for a human actor -- old and frail but light and sprightly, long and skinny, quick and sharp. Harris comes as close as you can get.

6. Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney. This is one of those rare cases when an actor makes the role better on screen than it ever was in the book. Emma Thompson is perfection as a sparkly, huge-eyed, nervous mystic. She is brilliant.

7. Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. Coltrane's best contribution to Hagrid is his voice. I hear him every time I think of Hagrid or read Rowling's words. Coltrane has the innocent monster thing in droves. Hagrid is one of the best things about Harry Potter and seeing him brought to life so well is priceless.

8. Brendan Gleeson as Mad Eye Moody. Mad Eye is a very strange sort of fellow. Not exactly cool, not exactly likeable, definitely scary and hard to understand. Gleeson manages to bring all of that to the forefront and deal well with the duality of not even really being Mad Eye, but an impostor. His performance is funny and powerful. Excellent.

9. Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. It is hard to even write the word "Umbridge" without a shudder. So much evil and cruelty packed into one tiny little sugarcoated body. Staunton is perfectly hateable.

10. Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. Branagh's take on Lockhart was not what I was expecting; I had something totally different in mind when I read the book. His idea was better. Much better. Such smarmyness. Such glibness. So smooth and ridiculous. Exceptionally well done!

11. Michael Gambon as Dumbledore II. I am a big fan of Michael Gambon. Just not a big fan of him as Dumbledore. That said, his performances in these movies are wonderful. They just don't convey "Dumbledore" to me. Still, they do convey a very impressive wizard who I have actually come to like a great deal anyway (if that makes sense).

12. Warwick Davis as Filius Flitwick. The movie-makers did a strange thing to Warwick Davis & Flitwick -- they made him old; then they made him young. They even made him a choir director. Davis is exceptional because in all of these different iterations he is good! and enjoyable to watch.

13. Gemma Jones as Madam Pomfrey. Great actress! Pretty minimal role. Poppy never really gets to shine in the movies, though Gemma is so lovely and engaging, when she is around she always sparkles.

14. Zoe Wanamaker as Madam Hooch. Even these really small parts like Hooch and Sprout get great performances in the movies. Wanamaker is exactly how I pictured Madam Hooch. She embodies butch gym teacher -- I guess that exists even in the wizarding world.

15. Miriam Margolyes as Professor Sprout. And finally Professor Sprout. Not a whole lot for Margolyes to do; but glad she is here to round out the team.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thoughts for the Day on 11/11/11

Every time I see you, you seem to go out of your way to make me feel like a complete idiot. And you really needn't bother. I already feel like an idiot most of the time anyway.
-Bridget Jones
I love the internet. It takes people like me, sitting at home quietly wasting my time and allows me to step out of my quietude, face the world, interact with literally dozens of other people and make a fool of myself in front of them instead.

In fact, I really have nothing much to say today other than that I am inordinately excited about the fact that it is 11/11/11 and knew I needed to make a post to commemorate it.

This is that post : )

Sorry to have wasted your time.
Have a great 11/11/11

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Voyager -- Nothing Whatsoever to Do With British Television

No. I've not gone ga-ga in the head. At least no more so than in general. I am aware that Voyager is not British television. Its not even headed by a British actor, nor do I mean to compare it to any British program (as I did recently with Star Trek the Next Generation). There is really no reason for it to be here at all except that someone brought it up on the blog the other day.

And I'm glad they did, because I had entirely forgotten about this show. (I think that lapse must be attributable to the fact that it was on when I was in law school.  Anything from popular culture that entered my brain during that time, seems to have seeped out the back just as swiftly. . . . Only so much room in there, you know.) But I have a few spare brain cells this week, and luckily enough Voyager is on Netflix, so I took another look. And now I remember!

Voyager was better in many ways than the Next Generation. Whereas TNG had a bit more of the big plots and it had the "flagship of the galaxy"-thing going for it, not to mention Patrick Stewart as the powerhouse leader, Voyager has a much deeper cast, more emotional charge and a sweeter, more appealing purpose -- getting home. Sure, exploring the galaxy on the way, but striving toward a specific end goal. These factors give the series a completeness and a structure that other Star Treks lack.

So, in brief, if you need a refresher and don't mind me not being a trekkie and probably screwing up the details, here is the basic plot: Janeway is tasked with finding this rogue band of rebels (led by Chakotay) that has disappeared along with an undercover starfleet officer. She is going to track them down and bring them in and retrieve her officer, but first, to help with the mission, she springs an ex-starfleet pilot (Tom), who had been incarcerated for his foibles, out of the big house. They are hot on the trail when both the rebel ship and the Voyager are attacked and flung so far across the universe that they are well beyond any ability to communicate with the known world or to get back to it. Lots of people die and the rogue ship is destroyed, and they are stuck with just a holographic doctor. They combine their forces to work together with the basic goal of getting back to earth -- which should take about 75 years.

Its really a pretty nice little set up. All alone stranded on the other side of the galaxy with nothing but time and adventure on their hands. Add a pretty good supporting cast and some interesting interpersonal dynamics and this is great stuff.

For this mission and the tv show, Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) makes a great captain. She balances her power with an emotional awareness suited to the mission they're on. Because they truly are all going to spend the rest of their lives together (they think), the crew needs someone who can be more of a guidance counselor, parent, and captain rolled into one. Janeway is definitely decisive and tough, as befits a starship captain, but she is also approachable and warm and has a fairly well-developed sense of fun. She also has a great husky voice, a lovely smile, some pretty cool retro updos, and a seriously hot first officer.

Chakotay (Robert Beltram). Now I do like to keep my blog gender-friendly and avoid gushing about cute guys, but my goodness, Chakotay is crush-worthy. He is new-age, tatooed, tough and rebellous, but willing to completely bend to the captian and the federation and serve them -- though he was thrown into a situation where he needed to do that against his will. He keeps his own needs under control and and emotions in check, but he is full character with deep thoughts, intellectual curiosity and spiritual grounding. A real man. He is also extremely handsome. He and Janeway share an excellent friendship with great chemistry. They make an interesting "couple" (though never really a couple of course because that would be far too gratifying and tv producers just can't give us that. Oh. Am I ranting? Sorry).

Because Chakotay is a very strong and manly man, but is also a subordinate to the really quite feminine captain, they have an unusual power balance in their friendship that is interesting and very appealing. On the surface Janeway is totally in control. But she looks at him often with big eyes that suggest that she is just a hair's breadth from giving herself to him totally. He ends up being quite the heart of the crew - a calm and centered presence -- who is in love with the captain but willing to ignore it and live a full life anyway.

One of my other favorite characters from this show is Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). Tom is a "Guy" with a capital G -- youthful, libidinous, cool and and friendly, with a past and a chip on his shoulder, a dad who is high up in the federation and misdeeds that cost him his career, until a field commission from Janeway restores them. He isn't trusted fully by others, but is proud and trusts himself. He wants to serve his captain, but, with his juvenile charm, is not your typical starfleet officer.

Better still is Robert Picardo as the Doctor, he's a very strong actor who makes this part feel central and important - even though he is playing an emergency medical hologram -- basically a computer program. He's dignified, flustered, proper and very appealing. If I recall correctly, he gets more and more interesting as the series grinds on and even gets quite friendly with Seven of Nine. Not bad for a EMH.

And having brought her up,  I have to discuss Seven of Nine, a cultural icon who has to be one of the hottest women ever to grace the small screen. Though she clearly joined the cast of this show several seasons in for the sole purpose of her sex appeal, and I should be disapproving for that reason (on principal), I can't. I am totally won over by the ex-Borg Seven. I find Jeri Ryan's performance absolutely endearing -- funny and wooden, cute as hell and of course gorgeous to look at, she adds a touch of humor and manages to be childlike and warlike at the same time. She makes getting assimilated seem like a really good idea. . .

If you haven't seen it lately or haven't seen it at all, it would totally be worth your time to check out Voyager. (And yes I'm aware that this could just be the Spooks withdrawal talking).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Downton Abbey Finale: "If you're turning American on me, I'll go downstairs."

Exceeding all my wildest hopes and expectations, the final episode of Downton Abbey came ripping across my television screen.  With a powerful finish to the season that was sexy, dramatic, touching, and surprising, and which cast class gulfs into very sharp relief, it was as if the producers of this series set out to make my Downton dreams come true. (Not surprisingly, we also learn this week in the news that there will be a third series, so I am revving up for more Downton dreams already).
SPOILERS WARNING -- for Series (Season) 2 of Downton Abbey, Final Episode. Please beware and stop reading now if you don't want to know how things end.
Of the myriad aspects of the world of Granthams, perhaps the best and most continually interesting is the interplay of class on class. In this last episode, several story lines dealt head on with the shattering of social barriers after WWI.

And none did it better than the storyline of maid Ethel's "bastard" baby. Would she give her fatherless baby to the dead man's parents to raise in the upper reaches of society? This could be a hard story to sell to a modern audience which would understandably be thinking: "of course that baby should stay with its mother." But Downton Abbey does a great job of making this seem like the dilemma it would most certainly have been. The benefits to that child of being raised with money, position and name -- versus living in poverty with an unwed mother in 1919 or 1920 are substantial beyond our ability to really imagine. It appears by the end of this episode that Ethel will keep her child, citing the shocking idea that a child is best off with its mother.

Also dancing around class divisions, Sybil's continuing attachment to the chauffeur and desire to marry him is a show stopper early on.  The scene where Sybil declares to her family that she will marry Branson was extraordinarily done, full of wonderful acting. Even though by modern standards, this may not be earth-shattering stuff, Lord and Lady Grantham sell it as such. You can really feel the level of abomination that is felt by both the Granthams and by the people below stairs by this attachment. Mr. Carson's vehement: "have you no shame?" to Branson is tremendous. Neither side of the divide feels it easy or desirable to jump across that gulf.

I also really appreciate that here, Lord Grantham finally draws a line to his liberality. He is a character that continually surprises with his ability to be big and forgiving, respectful of subordinates, and open in his views, almost to the point that he doesn't feel real. He needed to take strong exception to Sybil's plans in order to be believable as an aristocrat. I'm glad he did. And when, for once, it is his American-born wife, Lady Grantham, who expresses a softer, more understanding sentiment toward her daughter, he has the great line: "If you're turning American on me, I'll go downstairs."

Speaking of great one-liners, the Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) can't be outdone and has a very nice one to Lady Edith who is moping about her sister's good luck in love and her own forlorn state. Says Violet: "Don't be defeatist dear; its very middle class."

Meanwhile, two of the most popular couples on the show: Mary & Matthew and Anna & Bates both have excitingly sexy moments.

Mary and Matthew share a dance, a declaration of feelings and even a kiss in a very romantic moment in a darkened downstairs hall. I'd forgotten how much I like the two of them together. It is all wonderful until Matthew's lovely fiance Lavinia spoils it by showing up and then later being noble about it all, and then later still, dying. (I knew someone would have to die of the Spanish flu and I am glad it wasn't Cora). It was right and proper for Lavinia to remove herself in this way, though this will not appear to make things any better for Matthew at present as he is now torn up by grief and guilt. We'll have to wait till next season to see if he can overcome those feelings before Mary marries the icky Richard.

Even better than Mary and Matthew kissing, has to be Bates and Anna getting married! This is almost too much; I couldn't have hoped for seeing that -- let alone seeing them together in a bed. Oh yeah. What? Bates being hauled away on a murder charge related to his ex-wife's suicide at the end. I'm OK with that. We certainly saw it coming and at least he got to have one night with Anna first....

This is the episode that just kept on giving. As if Mary & Matthew and Anna & Bates weren't enough, we get Lord Grantham and new maid Jane in some serious embraces -- are you kidding me! Can't believe they almost got down and dirty. They somehow make this cliche idea unbelievably touching. It doesn't feel like a cliche when it comes to Lord Grantham because he is so "not like that". Their scenes are hot and also very sad. Especially later as she tells him goodbye:
"Will you be happy?"
"I have no right to be unhappy. Which is almost the same."

So glad she left and they didn't get caught together. It can just be a slightly evil, but meaningful and tender relationship -- a moment of romantic excitement but not more. And am even more glad that all seems to be well again between he and Cora because they really are a great pair. LG deserves a bit of excitement; he's been such a great character this season, almost unseating Bates for the title of the unexpectedly appealing and surprisingly sexy heartthrob.

And to just bring everything round we have Thomas being helpful and obliging, and O'Brien being penitent -- though neither without ulterior motives I expect.

And by the end, Lord Grantham gives his blessing to Sybil and Branson, while Violet's words still ring in my ears:
"The aristocracy has not survived by its intransigence."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Stables of Talented Actors: Truly the Best Thing About British Television

I've been taken to task for claiming that British television is better than American (I'm not complaining; it was fun). Rather than press the point, I'll exercise a woman's prerogative to modify the subject and say that, whether or not on the whole, British tv is of better quality than ours, what is actually the very best thing about British productions -- is British actors.

Nobody gets to quarrel with me on this. There can simply be no question that British actors are better than American ones. And by "actors" of course I mean actors and actresses. And by "better" I don't just mean better at their craft, (I'm willing to concede that there are some very talented American actors too) but on the whole, all things considered, British actors are just . . . better.  They're more interesting, more pleasant. More worthy of admiration and respect as individuals and humans. I can watch them and not feel shallow and dirty.

I understand that there are plenty of British actors who become famous and enter the stratosphere of celebrity -- the machine that sullies us all with uber-celebrities bumbling around trying to sell us their politics, their beauty products, or their lifestyles, writing their autobiographies when they are in their 30s and talking self importantly while concurrently doing everything they can to mess up their personal lives.

But I'm not talking about them.

I'm thinking of the scores of working actors who turn in excellent performance upon excellent performance, who put in a starring turn and then willingly follow it with supporting roles. Who can be found in many projects over the years producing great trails of great viewing. For instance, by watching North and South, I tapped into Brendan Coyle who I then followed to Lark Rise and Downton Abbey. While there in North and South, I also recognized Anna Maxwell Martin whom I'd enjoyed in Bleak House and who I later followed to South Riding, where she shared space with Peter Firth of Spooks -- in which he appeared with Richard Armitage who starred in North and South with Coyle. And back at Lark Rise, I met Julia Sawalha from Pride and Prejudice and Claudie Blakely from, well, a different adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The possibilities are endless. It sort of makes me want to do a chart. . . uh oh, better watch out for that :)
. . . also reminds me of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which you can link any two Hollywood actors in six steps or less through the tool of Kevin Bacon. You could probably link most of these actors working in British dramas in about 1 step. My mental chart is getting very cluttered. . .
British television drama provides so many opportunities to enjoy performances by people who I can watch in countless different combinations of great dramas and in interviews speaking with humor, class and fun and making me proud rather than ashamed that I enjoyed them; people for whom I can truly wish success, though not too much success (lest they join the machine).