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True Detective is The Beatles vs. The Stones

Seasons 1 & 2 of True Detective — Different, Similar and All Too Brilliant at the Halfway Mark

– Kevin Donnan – Regular Contributor to The Scoop Entertainment and The Scoop Sports


[Let me begin this piece by saying there are no episodic spoilers ahead.]

Over the past 50 years, it’s probably fair to say that the question of, “Are you a Beatles person, or a Stones person?” is asked at least once a day on this planet.

chicagomag.com
chicagomag.com

In the times it has come up, I’ve always said, “Both.” No need to debate, and no need to take up time and space to something that has been explored to death, but I couldn’t help but think of this analogy as HBO’s True Detective has returned to the small screen.

Divergent as the bands may be, there’s also no denying their similarities. The same can be said, for seasons one and two of True Detective. They are decidedly different, yet similar, while adding the critical element that makes it all work: maintaining a nostalgic look, feel and perhaps laudatory tribute to the cinema of the days when Mick, Keith, and The Fab Four were on everyone’s lips.

True Detective is amazing film noire that takes the viewer back to the days of Serpico, In Cold Blood, and Bonnie and Clyde.

HBO
HBO

Whether you are a fan of the tortured and brutalized partnership of season one featuring the brilliant Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, or the unlikely and unlucky quartet that is season two, the unifying element beyond its name is that this show or series or whatever you want to call it, like the Beatles and the Stones, is the best the medium has to offer and quite possibly episodic television among the very best we’ve seen.


The Series That Isn’t a Series

I’m not sure anyone who has seen it can deny the power of a television series that really isn’t a television series. True Detective is back this summer, and this time the dark and greasy underbelly of L.A. serves as the backdrop, and creator Nic Pizzollatto has created another gem.

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Its first run was as if you were watching a classic 1970s movie every Sunday for two months. One week, Chinatown. The next? Dog Day Afternoon. It carried that kind of brilliant intensity. No matter the turn, you never could truly anticipate whether there would be light or more darkness.

That hasn’t been lost this season either. At its midway point (four episodes), Pizzollatto can still generate the boil of those classic and gritty dramas of the 70s for this new generation that is all too unfamiliar with that bygone and beautiful genre of film.


Mick & Keith and Ringo

HBO
HBO

The most obvious and most definitive difference for season two is the replacement of the Mick and Keith of the bayou for a somewhat unlikely quartet navigating the murder and mayhem. Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughn meet at he intersection of greed, sex, power and murder. Three different cops, from three vastly different places, yet, all broken, and a crime boss desperately trying to go legit.

 

As the tragically flawed and tortured ‘Glimmer Twins’ chased pedophiles and the occult in season one, this time around True Detective is a lot like The Beatles. The performances of Farrell, McAdams and Kitsch represent Lennon, Harrison and McCartney, mesmerizing, evolving and exploring. And then you have Ringo Starr.

 

Hulton Archive
Hulton Archive

The jury remains out, but halfway? Vince Vaughn at this point seems a little like Ringo. As the rest of the band evolved, Ringo always seemed stuck back in The Cavern Club.

Make no mistake, he is an undeniably important and essential piece, but hasn’t every Beatles fan pondered if Ringo‘s abilities could have been somehow enhanced, if he could have had someone else sit in, or was Pete Best actually worse?

Spelling-Goldberg Productions
Spelling-Goldberg Productions

Right now Vince Vaughn is having to do the most work to keep up and move beyond his very strong work in comedy over the past two decades. It’s a gamble, and a not-so-easy transition for someone who’s predominantly known as a comedic actor. Every fan of this show certainly hopes that Vaughn‘s talent will win out and he will pull off a career-altering performance.

 

Every Beatles fan has had to face the difficult reality that from album to album, Ringo never got better, but that never kept you from silently hoping he would. The same can be said for Vaughn as this story starts the turn for home.


Season one with Jagger and Richards, or season two with The Fab Four (with Ringo warts and all)? Either way, it’s television you can’t, shouldn’t and don’t want to miss, and is the most intense series we’ve seen since The Sopranos and Breaking Bad.

When it comes to which one I prefer, or which one I think is technically better, like the Beatles and The Stones, I’ll say, “Both.”


Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop, and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas, and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

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Edie Falco Hangs up the Scrubs

“Nurse Jackie” exits as one of the most underrated shows of all time

– Kevin Donnan

edie1

(Edie Falco as Showtime’s Nurse Jackie)

If you watched The Sopranos as faithfully and relentlessly as I did, you know that very few could ever follow Carmela Soprano. When ‘Carm’ entered a room, she was a force of nature, and typically in (likely stolen) Italian pumps, a magnificent Chignon and perfect nails.

And she was all Jersey girl too. Exactly the way Bruuuuce helped us imagine that yes, even a depressive, psychopathic, tortured soul and mobster like Tony Soprano would surrender his heart because, “Nothing matters in this whole wide world, when you’re in love with a Jersey girl.”

Beautiful, tough and unbeatable. Edie Falco played the role of the smart, conflicted, devoted and all too suburban mob wife to perfection, picking up eight Emmy, SAG and Golden Globe awards.

edie

Following The Sopranos, when it was announced that she was taking on the role of the unethical and indomitable “Nurse Jackie,” I wasn’t about to turn away after her performance as the matriarch of La Familia, North Jersey.

Now, as Nurse Jackie has come to a close after seven seasons, I wonder about the prospects of a meeting between Carmela and Jackie Peyton? That’s a showdown that would give Sergio Leone a chill.

Falco‘s first significant recognition was on the HBO series Oz as the tortured prison guard Diane Whittlesly. It was The Sopranos that launched her into the stratosphere. Her scenes with the incomparable James Gandolfini are the stuff of legend, and no matter the situation, be it in a kitchen, a funeral parlour, or a hospital room, when Carmela was in a scene you couldn’t take your eyes off of her.

The Sopranos was not for every taste, but if you had to pick one episode to simply gain an appreciation for her work, watch “Whitecaps.” It is that penultimate episode where you will see the most raw and real interpretation of a relationship laid bare. It has been rightly compared to Taylor and Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and if you’ve ever seen it, there is no way you could forget it.

edie4

From the outset, Nurse Jackie was a difficult series to pin down. Always placed and hinted as being a comedy, Nurse Jackie was significantly and dramatically more geared towards drama, and critics have also suggested that at times, this factor was part of its struggle to find its place and a wider audience. However, when it had to be funny it was downright hilarious, and when heart-wrenching drama was required this cast and its star could most certainly pull it off.

Through its smallish, and even cult-like audience, it has carved out its own place thanks to the toughness and unrelenting passion of the actress and the role. That audience has been riveted and pained while watching the navigation of addiction, with its central character fighting to remain strong as she desperately battles for something to hold on to, all the while trying to save the lives of others.

As she descends, she elevates. Redemption and heartbreak, and as she falls, she tumbles. Criticized at times, and perhaps was at its best a season or two ago, it’s hard not to call this series one of the quietest, most underrated shows of recent vintage.

In Oz and The Sopranos, Falco was part of substantial ensemble casts. When she signed on for Nurse Jackie, however, this was the series where she took an even bigger step forward.

During its seven year run, and as the undeniable core of the ensemble, is where she found another gear, showed another facet and even more depth. Through this series, which in its final season rebounded from a somewhat slower previous season-and-a-half, Falco has shone while working within multiple storylines and jousting with the entire cast seemingly all at once. It’s that ability, and perhaps agility, to deliver time and time again as both the actor and the character are in the nucleus of chaos, that should cement Falco‘s status as easily the best working actress in television over the past 20 years.

No matter its challenges or successes, this sharply written, beautifully paced and incredibly clever character study was very unique. Yes, we’ve seen the ‘rebel with good intentions’ before, but we’ve never seen it from as wide a spectrum. The caregiver who at the core is inherently good, is also an addict.

You can now add the incomparable and insufferable Jackie Peyton in the lexicon of “Mary” and “Elaine” and “Murphy.” In addition, and in as much as you can add the character to that list, it is time to start looking at Falco as an actress you can start to mention with the likes of Mary Tyler Moore, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Candice Bergen. As much as those three ushered in their own eras on the small screen and left indelible performances behind, Edie Falco has been the unquestioned heroine and trailblazer for female characters on cable television.

From the prison guard, to the suburban hausfrau and now, the addict and caregiver, she took the trials and tribulations of nurse/addict Jackie Peyton and created another one of the most dynamic female characters in the history of television.

edie3

While ironic that Nurse Jackie, like The Sopranos, ended with its own open-ended and audience interpretive conclusion, the one constant remains. No matter what has happened or what’s been thrown at them, Carmela and Jackie will survive.

All I can think now is that I hope she takes a well deserved break, but comes back soon. Because from Diane, to Carmela, and to Jackie, Edie Falco always leaving you wondering and wanting more.


Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

Is Howard About to Say, “Buh-Bye, Baba Booey?”

Like David Letterman and Jon Stewart, will Howard Stern exit in 2015?

Losing two comedic legends and innovators within four months of each other is devastating, but will one more make 2015 the year comedy died in December?

Scoop Photo 3 Scoop Photo 2

(Letterman, left, signed off in May — Stewart will say his goodbyes in August)

Last month, with a heartfelt, “Thank you and good night,” David Letterman signed off, and Jon Stewart will exit The Daily Show in August.

Now all eyes, or in this case, ears are fixed on Howard Stern.


Legacy Secured

I started listening to The King of All Media during a tour of duty in radio in the early 1990s. Stern had exploded on the national scene with his book Private Parts and luckily, I had a co-worker who had a friend in New York State who would send bootlegs and underground recordings of his show.

It was like finding your older brother’s porn stash for the first time, or when you were assembling your own. No matter, it was forbidden, it seemed wholly wrong, but you couldn’t live without it either.

Scoop Photo 4
Stern circa Early 1990s

Since then, with the help of YouTube and my own conversion to satellite at over $200 per year, I’ve become become an unabashed “Stern Fan.” I have to say I’m grateful to have had the privilege of not only listening to a legend ‘live’ while also gaining a greater sense of his unique place in history, thanks to his unending catalog of back material and shows.

There’s little to no point debating Stern‘s impact on radio and pop culture. Love him or hate him, he revolutionized radio as we all know it. Quite simply, modern radio doesn’t exist without Stern. For every “morning zoo” in any city, to every silly stunt, prank call or celebrity interview that goes too far, Howard‘s fingerprints, the genius of his staff and writers and influence, are in there somewhere.

Scoop Photo 5
Stern on Letterman (CBS)

He’s done all there is to do. The bestsellers, the movie, it has all contributed to a very secure legacy and perhaps a very appealing retirement. His leap into satellite has made both him and Sirius extremely successful, with over 27 million subscribers and a balance sheet that is making shareholders very happy. Stern has become decidedly more acceptable to the mainstream, and a more respected talent thanks to his reach via America’s Got Talent.

One of the most recent estimates pegs Stern’s net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and he recently purchased a home in West Palm Beach worth $52 million that is only slightly smaller than the actual island of Manhattan. To put it into perspective, the entire Wack Pack could visit for the weekend and likely never find him.


Has he finally had enough?

Like in 2010, Stern fans have started the second or even third, Bataan Death March. In December, Stern’s second five-year contract at Sirius-XM comes to an end. In 2010, at roughly the same point on the calendar, he had already begun to lament his schedule and the demands.

Not long after his re-signing in 2010, Stern sued his employer over stock options in 2011 and came up short, but it’s seemingly the only serious bump in the road on the corporate side.

America's Got Talent (NBC)
America’s Got Talent (NBC)

On his show, he has talked about expanding his interests in painting and photography, while also cutting back his schedule even further and to spend more time with his wife. As recently as last week he was speculating about which job he would prefer, the radio gig, or America’s Got Talent.

Seemingly every hurdle he faces makes him yearn for a life away from the spotlight, and between now and quite likely a few days before the contract is up, listeners will either be entertained or beaten down by the daily speculation.

No matter what, it’s going to be a long, hot, summer.


Further Cementing History

The twisted part is that these negotiations make for great radio. An angst-filled Howard is pretty much radio gold.

Without having to worry about timelines and sponsors, he has simply flourished since his foray into satellite. The satellite medium has given him the freedom to widen and expand his show’s reach in terms of comedy, news and features.

(LtoR - Stern, Billy Joel and Robin Quivers)
(LtoR – Stern, Billy Joel and Robin Quivers)

The porn stars and lesbians, while never far away, have been supplanted in some ways; the Stern channels run features on everything from embedded news items about specific members of the Wack Pack, to amazing projects like a three-hour Billy Joel interview/performance and a birthday bash that will go down in history in terms of both performances and guests. He’s also booked exclusive concerts that have reunited acts like Soundgarden and brought in other bands like The Flaming Lips.

 

As a further indication of how much better and more mature Stern has become, twenty years ago, if anyone would have guessed that Howard Stern would produce a men’s health show on radio, you likely would have been committed.

These highlight what has been a better than brilliant second term for Stern at Sirius.

Stern with Quivers (National Enquirer)
Stern with Quivers (National Enquirer)

Rumors are more than strong that one of the key factors in re-signing in 2010 was Stern’s loyalty and worry about the fate of his staff going forward without him. While nearly every member of his staff pushes him to the breaking point, arguably the most poignant and beautiful aspect of this second term was his outpouring of love for Robin Quivers during her yearlong battle with cancer.

It exposed a side of Howard not often seen, and the kindness and loyalty to Quivers, and begrudgingly at times to the rest of his crew, demonstrate that Howard is not only a legendary figure, but deep down a very good and gentle man.

The revolution and the high profile rebellion of years gone by may be over for Howard Stern, but he’s rich, comfortable and ultimately needs this forum. The pain and suffering hides the importance of this forum to him. He knows he’s a far more important voice than he ever was and is reaching a wider audience year by year.

Stern with Madonna (Rolling Stone)
Stern with Madonna (Rolling Stone)

Even though new technologies and platforms continue to emerge, he’s not overly interested in companies like Apple and their platforms via iTunes, and has all but denounced podcasts as being a waste of time. Most importantly, and any time he’s pressed, he’s intensely proud of what he has accomplished at Sirius, both for himself and the company.

In spite of the pain in his voice, the wealth and the legacy, I’m not sure we’ll hear a final “Baba Booey” for a while.


Kevin Donnan is a Contributor at The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

It’s Not Just “Dave” That’s Leaving

LA Times
LA Times

Late Night TV Will Never be The Same

We loved him because he “got” us.

As David Letterman seemingly closes the curtain on an amazing near 40-year run in network television, he leaves as an icon for generations of stand-ups, talk-show hosts, actors/actresses, directors and producers, while also becoming a skeptical and cynical form of an “anti-hero” for his legion of fans, while also finding the formula that probably worked better than anyone before (Johnny included) or since.


One with the Audience

As Jerry Seinfeld helped expand and even create his own brand of comedy, David Letterman helped expand and create an entire genre of his own as the bridge from the traditional shows of Paar, Cavett and Johnny, to where we are today.

CBS
CBS

Whether it was the painfully long staredown of the camera and breaking the fourth wall over a failed joke, or the altogether too phony comment by some vacuous celebrity whose movie you knew would likely bomb, he not only let us in on the jokes, but he also made us feel like we shared in his pain and the absurdity of show business at its core.

From his entry in the late night talk arena in 1982, he was different. It wasn’t seamless. He never took himself or his position very seriously, and somehow he made YOU feel like you were one of the buddies he had around tossing ideas over a case of beer and at least three or four opened pizza boxes.

He was simply “Dave” and if he could do it, why couldn’t anyone else?

NBC
NBC

Watching the original Letterman show made you root for the guy. Here was a typical Midwestern kid, the son of a florist and a church secretary, who was simply trying to entertain while navigating his show through the haze of corporate and broadcast bureaucracy (the NBC and General Electric bits), vapid celebrities and the challenges of day-to-day life.

Nowhere was that more apparent than during a “dream sketch” when Dave decided the three people living or dead he would want to have dinner with were: William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and NBC movie reviewer Gene Shalit. Or, when asked by Shirley MacLaine whether he “believed in having past lives,” he responded with, “I may have delivered a pizza to the Eisenhowers.”

He was the sophomoric smart-ass, and one of the true reasons why David Letterman was so inspirational to so many is that Dave made us feel like he was an “outsider” among all of the ridiculous people in an even more ridiculous business.


Taking Johnny to Another Level

NBC
NBC

Where Johnny’s show had the feeling of a polished, well-oiled machine, with a flawless big band and a show that was fondly nicknamed “How America Went to Sleep,” Letterman was there to show us that his studio wasn’t much bigger than a broom closet, and he had a four-piece band that could rock the place if necessary. He wasn’t in Burbank with the perfect set, kibitzing with the A-listers who played cards with Johnny on his yacht. Johnny had sketches and bits, but they always seemed a little forced and focused on rim-shot humor.

Dave was the guy who drove in from somewhere in Connecticut and tried things that no one dared, or considered. And when he tried to put a fresh spin on bits from other acts like Steve Allen or Howard Stern, he would either pay tribute, or apologize (rather than outright stealing them and taking credit for them as original, a-la, Jay Leno).

CBS
CBS

The Top 10 List, Late Night “Thrill” and “Monkey” cams, “The Guy Under the Stairs,” Stupid Pet and Human Tricks, “What’s Hal Wearing” and Dumb Ads. Some of them worked brilliantly, and even the ones that failed somehow became absolute gold.

Bill Carter’s book, Late Shift, captures in brilliant detail the Tonight Show triangle of Johnny, Dave and Jay. The account is a reporting masterpiece that unlocks the backstage door of a power struggle that changed television and Hollywood, and in the end, Letterman never got what he and many, many, others felt was his just reward for essentially re-inventing the formula of the talk show.

As he made the transition to an earlier time-slot at CBS, it always felt like Letterman had a Van Halen type of existence in terms of his career. Where once he was edgy, raw and people were even slightly afraid of him, when he went to CBS, he suddenly became “Buttoned-Down Dave” and put away the wrestling shoes and tan khakis for designer suits, and suddenly became more mainstream.

The name was the same, but we all had to adapt to a rather seismic change. While fans could spend years debating, which Dave they prefer, much like Van Halen, the foundation, and yes, even some of the magic, was somehow still there, albeit in a more reserved, more mature and perhaps, more confident place. Everyone mellows out and gets old. Yes, even Dave.

As Dave became an adult, so did we, begrudgingly. And as he put away a good chunk of the old bits and gags, he became a better interviewer, and found the perfect balance where a true late night talk show could still explore complex issues like war, race relations and terrorism, while still ending a long day with a smile.

You only have to watch his performances following 9-11 to understand just how important, how reasoned and valuable he became in that time. Somehow the guy who wore a Rice Krispies suit helped an entire nation heal.

Dave leaves an ever-evolving medium where the balance has shifted. The emphasis no longer on the “talk” and the celebrity, but rather sketch comedy and bits where celebrities make fools of themselves and only appear interested in release dates and favorite songs to lip-sync. Times change, but the absence of Letterman will see that style of late night fade to black. At the same time, I’m not sure anyone could ever feel at all comfortable with either of the Jimmys (Fallon, Kimmel) discussing foreign policy today, tomorrow or anywhere else in the future.


No Matter the Dave

The magic of Letterman was his ability to find that perfect balancing act that gives the viewer enough celebrity to draw you in, and enough humor to keep you coming back.

The Velcro suit should probably be in the Smithsonian. We’ll miss the gap-toothed grin, the wild guests, jokes and the brilliant cynicism, but what we’re really going to miss is a guy who understood and appreciated his audience better than anyone.

CBS
CBS

David Letterman may not have the title “The King,” but for at least a generation, maybe two, we’ll settle for “perfect,” simply because he was one of us, and leaves with the legacy of the ultimate balancing act that made us keep coming back no matter what version of Dave you liked best. In the end, an entire nation is showing its well-deserved gratitude, and having a hard time saying farewell to both.


Kevin Donnan is a Contributor at The Scoop.