Lunchtable TV Talk – Bates Motel

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At first I avoided Bates Motel – for no real reason. I had no expectations going in, and I did not realize until I started watching that the formidable Vera Farmiga is one of the main players. This makes Bates Motel automatically worth at least trying out. Then realizing that Nestor Carbonell is the town sheriff seals the deal.

While I could spread on thick layers of superlatives about Farmiga’s range and talent, I would rather write a brief love letter to Carbonell. I love how he pops up frequently and, of course, is very different in each role – as quality acting requires. Whether he is hero, villain or somewhere in between (as is the case in Bates Motel), he delivers. But what I love about him most of all is looking back on his comedic role in the gone and mostly forgotten Suddenly Susan in the 1990s. A starring vehicle for Brooke Shields (and also starring Judd Nelson and Kathy Griffin), the show was usually stolen out from under Shields and the rest of the cast by Carbonell as Luis Rivera and the late David Strickland as Todd Stities. Together, this duo stole many scenes and kept me watching even when the show was annoying (and believe me – it grew increasingly so). (Interestingly the show also humanized Shields a bit for me – and I had never really cared much for her work before.)

Sadly, Strickland committed suicide at the age of 29 in 1999 (RIP) – but Carbonell, happily, was just getting started. He has turned up everywhere – both in one-time guest roles in popular TV shows and in longer-term appearances, such as a role in one-time network ratings juggernaut, Lost.

With Farmiga and Carbonell at the helm, Bates Motel really seems to work and stand out. Even the sometimes overly dramatic tone and plot are deftly managed in these actors’ hands. Many of the other actors are all right – kind of a go-to list of every non-descript Canadian actor who turns up in every Canadian or Canadian-produced show (for example, Ian Tracey as “Remo” – I stared at him for ages before realizing he was one of the stars of the Canadian legal drama Da Vinci’s Inquest – something that was never shown any time that I lived in the US but did turn up on late-night TV in Iceland). While the actor who plays Norman Bates, Freddie Highmore, should attract more accolades, there are times that his character’s awkwardness and mental illness feels a bit too ham-handed and overacted, making me think that while the part is well-cast, there is a bit too much “putting it on” that does not feel authentic. Highmore manages to balance innocent, sheltered, overprotected son with increasingly unstable, mentally ill “psycho” quite well – he is fantastic at “creepy” – but nevertheless isn’t really the star of the show.

Without the main cast working well together, though, the show would not be nearly as addictive as it is (and it has been addictive). Once I started the first season of ten episodes two days ago, I could not stop and am already caught up (we’re nearing the end of season three).

Lunchtable TV Talk – Reign: Historical fiction

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Most women my age – and probably a fair number of men, too – watched and maybe even loved the CBC/PBS miniseries, Anne of Green Gables. Megan Follows, while she has had a rich and long career since, will never quite shake her identity as Anne Shirley. And Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s academic rival, friend and eventual husband in the Anne of Green Gables series (a series of Canadian books set in Prince Edward Island, Canada that adolescent readers have devoured for the many decades since they debuted), had life breathed into him by Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie. He has appeared here and there in other things, perhaps most recently and notably in The Good Wife, but he has been tied all his life to his reputation-making role as “Gil”. Sadly, Jonathan Crombie passed away this past week at the age of 48, which plunges the hearts of “kindred spirits” of my age into “the depths of despair” – to use some of Anne Shirley’s over-the-top, verbose, well-loved language.

Ultimately, though, this was not meant to be about Crombie or his passing. (Or to question the “dying young” passing of Canadian actors who graced Canadian tv institutions. Referring here to the 2007 death of Neil Hope, who was “Wheels” on the original Degrassi Junior High.) Instead, I had just been watching this week’s episode of Reign, which sucked me in despite not being my style at all. In large part, I tune in week after week to watch Megan Follows’s regal, scheming performance as Catherine de Medici. Follows finally outshines her past, defining role as Anne Shirley and is the one reason I keep coming back to Reign.

This is not to say that Reign isn’t a decent show. I like these kinds of historical fiction programs in that they may not paint a full or accurate picture of historical events, but they breathe life into long-past history that may ignite curiosity in those non-historians among us. We might then make moves toward reading real history and finding out what in these programs (like Reign, The Tudors and Wolf Hall, to name a few recent entries) is true and not true. History brought to life, regardless of creative license employed for television audiences, can only pique interest and perhaps make history a more interesting subject for otherwise disinterested generations (each generation, at the risk of sounding like a cranky old person, seems less and less interested in history).

I am driven by my viewing of Reign to go back and read the history – and often enjoy the modern music pairings that make up the soundtrack. Occasionally an interesting person will turn up as a guest star – Amy Brenneman as Marie de Guise (a great piece of casting!), Yael Grobglas as Olivia (best known now as Petra on Jane the Virgin) and even Battlestar Galactica’s Helo (Tahmoh Penikett).

Considering all these factors, especially Megan Follows’s presence, now that I know the show has been renewed for another season, I will continue to watch (even if my mind is very much stuck now on Anne of Green Gables, Anne and Gil and Jonathan Crombie, resting in peace.)

Scandinavian Man Invasion on TV

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Anyone as obsessed with TV as I am knows that Nordic TV shows have asserted a kind of quality and dominance that has garnered well-deserved praise and attention (and the inevitable English-language – and other – remakes, as with The Killing mirroring the Danish Forbrydelsen and the Swedish/Danish production Bron spawning American/Mexican offshoot, The Bridge, and UK/French offshoot, The Tunnel).

Amidst the sea of fantastic Scandinavian television show choices, one cannot overlook the strength and ubiquity of the Scandinavian actors on English-language TV shows. TV has been taken over by Scandinavian men… I will undoubtedly forget some of them (yes there are that many!) but the most notable that spring to mind right now include some pretty startling, arresting performances:

Mads Mikkelsen (Denmark) in Hannibal

Ulrich Thomsen (Denmark) in Banshee

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Denmark) in Game of Thrones

Joel Kinnaman (Sweden/USA) in The Killing

Alexander Skarsgård (Sweden) in True Blood

Bill Skarsgård (Sweden) in Hemlock Grove

Peter Stormare (Sweden) in The Blacklist

Of note, Stormare is also starring in a series of Volvo Trucks ads (not unlike Jean-Claude Van Damme!) that champions Swedish values – see below. Stormare rules – cannot help but think of him again frequently now that there is a TV version of Fargo. He was a highlight in the film version.

Better safe than sorry!

Look at him “fika” all by himself!

Might not want to try “allemansrätten” wherever you come from (especially the USA where “stand your ground” might take precedence)

Nowhere in the world will you see as many dads with prams!

Substantial Swedish food!

Lagom! The Swedish Goldilocks complex!

Darri Ingólfsson (Iceland) in Dexter

Christopher Heyerdahl (Canada) in Hell on Wheels (honorable mention since he is not really a Norwegian but beautifully plays a Norwegian who shifts like a chameleon into different identities as it suits him but is known in the beginning as “The Swede”)

Updated

Gustaf Skarsgård (Sweden) – Vikings (Yes, there are a lot of those Skarsgårds!)

Kristofer Hivju (Norway) – Game of Thrones (Finally – a real Norwegian to add to the list!)