Lunchtable TV talk: Another hit – Jett

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In my effusive praise of Mr Inbetween, in which I listed a number of contemporary TV shows with murder-for-hire themes, I failed to mention one of my most recent indulgences: Jett.

I thought of it again suddenly as I was writing about women characters and their often much more transformative journeys as compared to the men with whom they share the screen. In particular, I reflected on some of the more fearless moves women characters have made, and how some of the coldest, most calculating women characters betray almost no emotion, despite how women are framed as being the more emotionally fragile of the sexes. And then I remembered: Jett, something/someone in the no-man’s-land of questionable and violent actions. Jett (Carla Gugino), is a fresh-from-prison, world-class thief who gets pulled back into this underworld, and repeatedly has to insist that she is “not a hit man” and that she does not kill people. Yet the danger in which she finds herself ensnared leaves her always on the edge of making that choice. She doesn’t always succeed in keeping her hands clean.

While not overtly about a hit man, or hiring people to kill for money, Jett does exist in the criminal universe in which a strategic hit isn’t far from possible. And despite her best efforts, she’s always adjacent to this action. Jett as a character isn’t moralizing and does not appear to agonize over very much, but there are moments when she comes to lines she doesn’t want to cross, and it’s fascinating to see how the character manages these dilemmas.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

 

Lunchtable TV Talk: Wayward Pines

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Ages ago, as Wayward Pines neared its end, I had planned to write about my thoughts about the show. I never got around to it, and was waiting to see if the show would be renewed (it was kind of designed to be a standalone miniseries season or go on if renewed) – it wasn’t, but by then, I did not care much any more.

Far from perfect, the show – a bit overdramatic, somewhat stupid and uneven, and not entirely clear – was still entertaining. Mostly it was good to see some of the actors (Carla Gugino, Justin Kirk and Melissa Leo, for example) in these roles, and sort of funny to see Matt Dillon. Dillon has had a long career, but I do recall a time when my mom and I were joking about how Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton features “serious actors, not ones like… Matt Dillon” – only to see Dillon on the show a few weeks later. Haha.

So yeah, I have nothing to say about this but think it was a good decision not to continue the show.

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Brink

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Eager to find out how The Brink, a satirical comedy focused on a geopolitical crisis that ignites in Pakistan, ends, I keep watching. It’s a relatively funny journey – not too taxing or challenging given the political story (which can bog down shows attempting to be “light”, as this one aims to be). What sets this show apart is its stellar ensemble cast. Just when I get pulled into the scenes with the incorrigible, frenetic Jack Black and his driver, played by the multitalented Aasif Mandvi, the shift focuses to the sex-obsessed, liberal but never-taking-his-eye-off-the-ball US Secretary of State, played to perfection by Tim Robbins. But the show also has somewhat smaller but still standout roles for Pablo Schreiber, Carla Gugino (who also turned in a good performance recently in Wayward Pines) and John Larroquette.

On an entirely unrelated note, Larroquette’s presence sent me off on a nostalgic mental parade of past television, including Larroquette on the 80s sitcom classic, Night Court, of which he was the best part. But Night Court also included Harry Anderson, a most non-descript guy who nevertheless carved out a niche for himself as a magic aficionado and as a night-court judge, as a frequent guest star in Cheers and in the 80s/90s sitcom Dave’s World, based on the life of comedy writer, Dave Barry. And my twisted obituary-laced brain immediately recalls that Dave’s World’s Meshach Taylor (also famous for his turn as Anthony the ex-con in Designing Women) is dead – too young. Going back to Night Court, once again, whatever happened to Markie Post, the female lead in the show? Back in the 1990s she was in a little-watched but nevertheless entertaining Hearts Afire with the late John Ritter. (Of course my brain would lead me here – always the grim reaper.) Hearts Afire ended up being about a married couple working on a hometown newspaper in the south, but it started off being thematically not too different from Alpha House and The Brink – without the farce, of course. Incidentally, Hearts Afire also starred Billy Bob Thornton. But people were not quite ready for Billy Bob yet.

In some ways, ensemble shows like The Brink, as topical and sharp as they are, end up making me more interested in making connections – playing some kind of six-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon connect-the-dots. Obviously. Nothing about the unfolding crisis and underhanded political rivalries playing out in high-stakes, behind-the-scenes conflicts should lead someone to forgotten two-season sitcoms like Hearts Afire. But for a TV-crazed lunatic like me, they do.

Why I Changed My Mind: Carla Gugino

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Back in the late 1990s I watched and enjoyed the show Spin City – preferred the Michael J. Fox era to the Charlie Sheen era, but reflecting on the show, I realize that I really did not like the female characters in the show. Regardless of how much I love Connie Britton today, I was not the biggest fan of her character, Nikki (she was the best of the female bunch, in any case). Most of the female characters just felt pushy and very one-dimensional. It’s been a while since I watched the show; my memories of the female characters aren’t particularly positive.

One of these characters was “Ashley” – played by Carla Gugino. I may have mixed up my dislike for the character with a dislike for the actress. That’s the best I can come up with in reference to Carla Gugino. In looking back over her roles, I found that so many of them in her early career were as annoying as the Spin City role. Once again, it seems to have been a matter of the roles she was in rather than the actress herself. I remember seeing ads, for example, for the TV show Karen Sisco, and I just rolled my eyes. It was based on the character of the same name in the film Out of Sight (the even more annoying Jennifer Lopez played Karen Sisco in the film), and I can very rarely get behind a TV version of something that was a decent film. (Friday Night Lights, film and TV version starring the aforementioned Connie Britton, is the rare exception.)

I also disliked the show Chicago Hope – and Gugino was in it for a while. Not her fault – just didn’t like anything that was associated with the show.

Somewhere along the line, Gugino ended up in a few roles that made me fall in love with her. She comes across as smart and sexy – without overdoing either. It happens that she also showed up in shows I love (or have loved), which helped. I also saw her in the film Women in Trouble, which was not a good film, but it is really what turned me. There is a smart sarcasm and world-weariness (without cynicism) that comes across in her role as porn star Elektra Luxx. These same traits turn up in her other roles, and I am a fan.

Gugino showed up Hank’s attorney in Californication (once a favorite that has overstayed its time on TV). She turned up in an episode of one of my favorites, Justified. Perhaps my favorite role in which I have seen Gugino is the miniseries Political Animals. It was a smart show, with a great cast including Sigourney Weaver, James Wolk, Sebastian Stan, Ellen Burstyn and Ciaran Hinds, but sadly the show was more or less left on the table as a miniseries rather than a full show.

More recently Gugino appeared on New Girl (a funny but not favorite show), but by that time, I realized that I like her. Considered, reconsidered – Gugino has changed my mind.

I am starting to see a pattern. Younger women, in their 20s, are just not that interesting. They become multilayered and fascinating the more experienced they become. It’s almost like you can see the experience and depth come through in their performances. Youth is overrated.