I think it’s with Amish Mafia that the “reality TV” trend jumped the shark. It was at this point that premises for shows had to start becoming so outlandish and ridiculous that viewers could no longer be expected to put up with the charade that they’re watching something “real.” With Amish Mafia the show has to be upfront about the fact that the footage is all actually “reenactments.” It’s the TV version of non-alcoholic beer.
The show’s amusing novelty — hearing the Pennsylvania Dutch spoken by some Amish subtitled and saying thuggish things — wears off quick.
This working class comedy executive-produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley is fraught with all the non-PC ethnic and sexual humor you’d hear in a working class, Irish-Korean, middle-American bar like the one in the show. Created by Korean American actor/comedian Steve Byrne and Cheers writer Rob Long, the TBS sitcom reminds you that some jokes are still OK to crack. The stellar cast features Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) and comic genius Brian Doyle-Murray, along with Christine Ebersole and Owen Benjamin, who portray the drop-dead hysterical mother-son dependent duo Carol and Owen Walsh.
I’ve stuck with Showtime’s Homeland through three seasons of thick and very thin. To highlight one of the shallower reasons for doing so, see exhibit A: brooding yet hot CIA black ops guy Peter Quinn, played by British actor Rupert Friend. Other reasons — especially on a Sunday night when it competed with AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — wore thinner and thinner as this third season, which concluded last night, wore on. It seemed that the main purpose of Homeland this year was to discover the new Showtime series in the next time slot, the skillfully written and acted Masters of Sex dramatizing how William Masters and Virginia Johnson chose and pursued their field of research (and each other).
But the main storyline this season gave me a sliver of hope that if President Obama finds out things by reading the morning paper, maybe he’d learn a bit about the Iranian regime as portrayed in some of Homeland‘s episodes. Regime stooge Majid Javadi, played by Tehran native Shaun Toub, is a brutal man who arrives in America to track down his ex-wife and kill her with a broken bottle to the throat after shooting his daughter-in-law to death — justified, he coolly reasons, because she broke Islamic law and fled from him. Javadi is later recruited as a double agent by the CIA with the hopes that he can go back and become commander of the Revolutionary Guards.
When Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) crosses the border into Iran on a CIA mission, he is lauded and paraded by the regime. The Tehran government is portrayed as welcoming a character accused of committing a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil — after knocking him around a little bit to ensure he’s loyal to jihad — and giving him asylum. The Iranian regime is also accurately portrayed in the show as giving safe haven to al-Qaeda — in this case, the widow of a fictional al-Qaeda commander. After Brody is caught he’s promptly executed, strung up on a crane before murals of the Ayatollah Khomeini and a desecrated American flag as crowds cheer on the death of the agent of the Great Satan. It’s a tense, cold, horrifying scene, and it left me hoping that it would make some viewers hit the Google — where they’d find at least two dozen, with likely many more unrecorded, have been hanged this year alone in Iran for the crime of moharebeh. This general law encompassing heresy, offense against Islam, subversion and cooperating with foreign governments has been used to dispose of those the regime finds inconvenient: government opponents, dissidents and protesters, gays, and ethnic and religious minorities.
Governor Mick Huckabee, now a TV and radio talk-show host, seems to be a nice guy. He is kind to everyone and seemingly wants everyone to like him. Unlike other media hosts, he regularly features as guests those with whom conservatives disagree. When The Iron Lady came out in 2011, Huckabee invited on actress Meryl Streep to discuss her performance of Margaret Thatcher. I recall her nervousness as she clearly feared being the guest of a well-known social conservative with whom she had profound disagreements. The governor quickly put her at ease, and showed that he truly wanted to make her welcome.
Sometimes this works. But yesterday, Huckabee revealed the dangers of such a stance. He had as guests on his radio program none other than Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, there to give their TV series, The Untold History of the United States, more publicity and attention. Listen to the interview, and you will find one of the most disgraceful interviews by a conservative that you will ever hear.
You might expect that Huckabee (or his staff) would have done some homework and, if he chose to have these two advocates of what Roger L. Simon rightfully calls “Stalin porn” on his program, asked them challenging questions. If so, you will be waiting a long, long time. Instead of asking them any tough questions at all, Huckabee allowed them to use their assigned time to spout leftist propaganda without any objection or disagreement. Indeed, at one point, historian Kuznick praised Joseph Stalin and chastised the United States during World War II for not doing Stalin’s bidding, arguing that the U.S. could have come to their aid earlier and not refused a second front in Europe when Stalin wanted it. After all, Kuznick said, Stalin was “anti-fascist” when no other powers were.
Clearly, Kuznick does not realize that in fact Stalin was preparing his alliance with the Nazis during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact way before it was announced, and the nature of his anti-fascism was spurious to the core. Indeed, as Foreign Minister Molotov had said in a famous statement, “fascism is a matter of taste.” The NKVD gave advice and aid to the Gestapo, among other things, and the two totalitarian leaders easily accommodated their ideological differences to work together against the West.
Did Huckabee challenge this statement? Not once. Nor did he object when the two repeated their argument about the unnecessary A-bombs dropped on Japan and the United States’ true purpose as a permanent militaristic power based on hegemonic domination of the world on behalf of American corporations.
Oliver Stone and his co-author Peter Kuznick are not going to be happy this week. After making scores of media appearances in which he heralded the supposedly great reception for his new TV series Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, which airs each week for 10 episodes on the CBS-owned network Showtime, Stone is finally getting the negative response he feared.
First, Stone was hit hard by Michael Moynihan at Newsweek/The Daily Beast. Declaring Stone and Kuznick’s film “junk history,” Moynihan called Stone’s work “swivel-eyed, ideological history,” based on “dubious quotes and sources,” a veritable “marvel of historical illiteracy.” Coming on the heels of my own debunking of Stone, “A Story Told Before: Oliver Stone’s Recycled History of the United States,” Stone and Kuznick received two substantive critiques in one week.
Stone, of course, completely ignored my own substantive article, alluding to it without naming me as an example of “a few far-right diatribes” that do not warrant response. Stone bragged that “the majority of reviews and articles have been positive” until the piece by Moynihan that he had to answer since it appeared in what he considers a mainstream media venue. Since the original author has the last word, Moynihan hit Stone hard in his own answer, which appears after Stone’s response as an update. Moynihan easily further demolishes Stone and Kuznick, concluding after presenting more evidence that their work “is activism masquerading as history.”
This Sunday, however, Stone and Kuznick will be even more upset. The New York Times Magazine features a story by editor Andrew Goldman, “Oliver Stone Rewrites History-Again.” Goldman’s story, which summarizes Stone’s theory behind the TV series and has many vignettes based on his own interview with the director, notes among other things that Stone never really took back his incendiary comment that there is “Jewish domination of the media” and that Israel’s “powerful lobby in Washington” controls U.S. foreign policy. The apology he supposedly made to the Anti-Defamation League was forced on him to avoid cancellation of Untold History, and Stone has now told Goldman that he should not have used the word “Jewish,” but that Israel has “seeming control over American foreign policy” and that AIPAC has “undue influence.” He accuses them of “militating for the war in Iraq,” completely ignoring that, in fact, Israel did not favor the war, considering Iran its major enemy, and that AIPAC in particular never lobbied on its behalf. Each time Stone explains himself, he further puts his foot in his mouth.
When Goldman eventually gets to the new Showtime series, readers learn that Stone’s accolades come mainly when he presents his film to sympathetic viewers from the far-left Nation magazine, as in a forum held in New York after the annual New York Film Festival. Referring to the magazine as “the left’s beloved 147 year-old weekly,” Goldman quotes its editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel as saying that Stone’s film “is what we try to do at The Nation,” which, if anything, is more of a giveaway about its reliability than she imagines. That she sees the film as challenging “the orthodoxy” and the “conformity of our history” is a statement that should, if anything, be very embarrassing to those who think she has any credibility.
Last month in “Why This Election Year America Is Carmela Soprano” I lamented that in The Sopranos, one of the most celebrated TV shows of the era, the main characters remained as broken at the end as the beginning. Tony Soprano spent six seasons going to therapy to, supposedly, treat his psychological problems. It’s all for naught since Tony never grapples with the evil acts he commits and the suffering they cause for others. His wife Carmela also remains trapped in his criminal world, unable to grasp that while she lounges comfortably in a luxurious New Jersey suburb, others lie dead, their bodies hidden and forgotten as a result of her husband’s Mafia-style perversion of the American Dream.
I feared that voters would take a similar approach this election, ignoring the evil men who we now know shaped Barack Obama’s ideas and the bloody reality of their implementation. For all of the summer and into September I operated with the mindset of the 99%. With the legacy media cleaning up his messes, and the economy still not bad enough for most to really feel the pain, there was about a 99% chance of Obama winning the election. And polls aside, the mysterious variable of voter fraud weighed heavily on my mind with every new J. Christian Adams story.
In conversations with friends, I referenced more how we should prepare for Obama’s second term impeachment, rather than putting our hopes in the GOP establishment to avoid a repeat of 2008. And while my respect for Mitt Romney had grown considerably, I still doubted his campaign’s competence. (The yielding of Obamacare!) But a few unknown unknowns remained on the horizon as October began:
Obama bombing that first debate. Benghazi. Two weeks of trying to disguise a terrorist attack as a “spontaneous” response to a YouTube video.
A lot can happen in a month.
Last Sunday, on the eve of the last presidential debate, my wife April and I finished our successor show to The Sopranos, the third season of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. By then my assessment of the president’s reelection chances had dropped to 66% — where it still remains today. The Romney campaign leaped to life as a shot of reality hit the American people in the heart. But is it enough to fully awaken America from the haze of a four-year hopenchange high?
Edie Falco, who played Carmela on The Sopranos, stars as Jackie Peyton, a 20-year veteran of the Emergency Room at All Saints’ Hospital in New York City. She’s a fighter, eager to battle hospital bureaucracy and push others to do what’s right for patients. In an age where we’ve all experienced the packed doctor offices often filled with indifferent staffers, a Super-Nurse Warrior like Jackie makes for an appropriate hero. Jackie’s greenhorn coworker, a Millennial named Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever), sees her as such, declaring her a saint and her role model.
But Jackie knows her sins well. She might be the superhero in the ER but behind the scenes she’s addicted to prescription pills, sometimes steals to support her habit, and carries on an affair with Eddie the pharmacist. She also neglects her husband and their two daughters, both of whom have started acting out in response to her workaholism.
And in every episode new saints and sinners stumble into the ER and Jackie struggles to balance the scales, pushing ethical boundaries and soothing her guilty conscience with the thrill of saving everyone else’s life except her own.
And the statues of the saints watch on as Jackie retreats to the hospital’s chapel — her Temple — struggling to find a way out of the new problem brought courtesy of her expensive drug addiction.
Noah was a drunk. David was an adulterer. Jackie is both.
Not yet mentioned in the series, though somewhat implicit, is that Jackie probably has some variety of psychological disorder. The same biochemical combination in her head pushing her to risk everything to save a life also drives her to risk her marriage with an affair. Sometimes the gambles pay off, other times they explode in her face. One moment she’s flying high, the next she’s crashing and burning.
Showtime’s terrorism drama Homeland is the television king of the hill. For its inaugural season it recently took the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, and Best Actor and Best Actress awards for its two leads. The final episode of season one was the most-watched finale of any rookie Showtime series, and it just kicked off its highly anticipated second season. But underneath its polished production values and top-notch writing is a moral muddle that may undermine its dramatic impact in the long run.
For those who haven’t been following–SPOILER ALERT–the show centers on a U.S. Marine named Brody (actor Damian Lewis), missing and presumed dead in Iraq since 2003, who is rescued and brought home to Washington D.C. to a lot of CIA self-congratulation and media fanfare. He rides his war hero popularity all the way into political office and by season two he is a Congressman being courted for the presidential running mate.
But that’s not all he is. CIA analyst Carrie (Claire Danes) rightly suspects that Brody is a sleeper agent here to carry out an attack from terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). That makes Brody a rather unique protagonist–“a whole new breed of lead character,” as the Los Angeles Times put it, “neither antihero nor villain.” Nor hero.
Homeland, Showtime’s highest-rated drama, returns to edify American viewers about jihadist motivation this month. A Hollywood-style take on a POW turned Muslim subversive, the producers call it “an exploration of terrorism, intelligence analysis, and paranoia in the post-9/11 era.” Though Homeland makes for titillating television, viewers should beware of its questionable political agenda and puerile take on radicalization.
Homeland is based on the Israeli Prisoners of War(POW), a wrenching examination of three captive soldiers and the complexities of their re-entry into the world. Homeland’s Muslim subversive, U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, is an awkward amalgamation of three prisoners profoundly contrasted in POW who have different demeanors and return to different family realities (one in a coffin). In lieu of these riveting characters, Homeland features paranoid CIA agent “crazy Carrie” Mathison, and the tired theme of U.S. government malfeasance. In the end, Homeland bears little resemblance to POW, where national security implications play (thus far) a secondary role. In fact, the whole idea of Homeland’s turned-Muslim subversive may have been plucked from the last few minutes of the Israeli POW’s season finale.
The characterization of Brody and his path to radicalization is rife with “teachable” moments rendered in a persona with whom Americans can readily identify. The premise is that, after years of barbaric torture, Brody is given a luxurious bath that somehow washes away his identity as an American soldier with a wife and kids. He then embraces Islam and befriends his torturer’s son.
Brody bonds with the boy, and pursuant to the boy’s death from an errant U.S. missile, Brody pledges allegiance to his bin Laden-like terrorist father, Abu Nazir. Why Brody should blame the United States rather than the father, a targeted terror mastermind with few qualms about exposing his child to harm, is never explained. Yet co-producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa ask us to accept that this is what animates Brody’s path of revenge. Ironically, in reality several U.S. strikes against Osama bin Laden were aborted for fear of collateral damage.
Although Ron Howard is plenty busy convincing the world that Arrested Development is filming a fourth season, he’s ready to take on another TV project steeped in myth and legend. Deadline reports that Howard is preparing to direct the Showtime series Conquest, a “sweeping period drama” written by The Motorcycle Diaries’ José Rivera about the clash between the Spanish conquistador Cortes and Aztec emperor Moctezuma II, who didn’t exactly appreciate being conquistadored.
Given the facts that Rivera A) was strongly influenced by Castro-defender Gabriel García Márquez, B) wrote a screenplay glamorizing the Stalinist executioner Che Guevara, C) followed by writing a play on the murderer’s final hours with the radical chic title School of the Americas D) this year the On the Road film coming out also bears his credit… it’s safe to anticipate a series indicting Western Civilization while downplaying the human sacrifice and slavery that took place under Aztec imperial rule.