Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Entertainment Business

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies (or TV shows, as the case may be) that fit the week's theme.

Having worked for an Off Broadway theater company for five years, I can safely say that yes, there is indeed no business like show business. Which is why it's weird that there haven't been more great TV shows that use it as a backdrop (although perhaps other people's picks this week will prove me wrong on that). Here are three of my favorites.

Slings & Arrows (2003-2006) And why not just start with the best? One of the greatest television series of all time, this Canadian show takes place at a Shakespeare Festival, following the actors, directors, stage managers, techies, and office staff who make it run. Each season is centered around one particular production (Hamlet in the first, Macbeth in the second, and King Lear in the third), directed by actor/director Geoffrey Tennant (the magnificent Paul Gross), returning to the Festival after the death of the Artistic Director, despite suffering a nervous breakdown onstage at the festival years ago. Oh yeah, and the ghost of said dead Artistic Director starts haunting Geoffrey. The show is mostly about the tenuous relationship between art and commerce, in addition to being about Shakespeare, and mental health, and aging, among many other things. Each six-episode-long season is like a full five-course meal, with lots to savor. Of course, I watched the whole thing over the course of about a month for the first time because I was so engrossed in it. This is television at its finest.

30 Rock (2006-2013) Tina Fey's zany sitcom about the trials and tribulations faced by the cast and crew of a sketch comedy show is one of the fastest, funniest sitcoms ever written. With all-time great characters and performances from Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, and Fey herself (just to name a few), this show is a treasure always ripe for rewatching.

Smash (2012-2013) Oh what high hopes we all had for this show. Lovers of musicals, I mean. And while Smash certainly had its pleasures, it was all a shambles when it came to episodic storytelling. But OH what talent in front of the camera! Debra Messing has never been better than as Broadway lyricist Julia, Christian Borle was a catty delight as her partner in music Tom, Anjelica Huston was Anjelica Huston, and Megan Hilty was a bundle of perfection as chorus girl turned Broadway star Ivy Lynn. And the songs by March Shaiman and Scott Wittman were pretty much all great. But unfortunately, it seemed that nearly everyone involved behind the scenes had a completely different vision of what the show was, and that came across in different ways in each of its two seasons: Season One was over the top, occasionally venturing into so-bad-it's-good territory, while Season Two (which had a new showrunner because of said OTT-ness of S1) was confused and uninteresting, with new characters who were were all either bland or aggressively awful. Smash is maybe the biggest TV disappointment I've ever witnessed in my lifetime, going from appointment viewing for most of the first season to forgetting that the Finale was even on and not really caring all that much about even watching it afterwards. But we'll always have those great musical numbers.


  1. I also chose 30 Rock! Count me in as one of those people who wanted to love Smash, I just wasn't drawn into it. It was extra disappointing because I didn't like Glee either and I wanted to enjoy a musical show.

  2. Oh WOW Slings and Arrows!!!! How could I have forgotten that when I was trying, and struggling-this week was tough!-to come up with picks. Loved it and love, love, love Paul Gross ever since the first Tales of the City (I know he was only in the original Tales-due to his commitment to Due South I believe-but he will ALWAYS be Brian Hawkins to me). Anyway back to S&A it was wonderfully inventive and brilliantly acted, like you I watched it all in a bunch once I discovered it.

    I also had sky high hopes for Smash and was very letdown by the scattered mess all those talented people found themselves trapped in. I tried for a while and then dropped it.

    I never got into 30 Rock though everyone sings its praises. Maybe someday.

    As I said I found this week an almost impossible challenge but by scrounging around I finally came up with three though to be honest my first is the only one I loved, I liked my second well enough and the third was another of those high expectation leading to much disappointment shows.

    Buffalo Bill (1983-1984)-Unconventional and innovative comic drama of Bill Bittenger (an award level Dabney Coleman), an insufferable egotistical Buffalo talk show host and his long suffering staff (including Geena Davis, Joanna Cassidy and Meshach Taylor) who he thinks nothing of treating like dirt. Sharp, incisive and critically adored this always struggled in the ratings because despite his brilliance Coleman’s Bill was nearly impossible to warm to.

    Good Morning, Miami (2002-2007)-Lightweight comedy of hot shot producer Jake Silver (Mark Feuerstein) undertaking the reconstruction of one of the worst talk show on TV, a Miami morning chat show with a blowhard host and a nun for a weathergirl. The series followed his attempts to improve the show and the wacky cast. Never a huge hit but it had a decent group of performers including the late great Suzanne Pleshette as Feuerstein’s plain talking grandmother.

    Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007)-Behind the scenes comedy drama of the chaos that goes into making a Saturday Night Live type program. A lot of high grade talent (Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson etc.) in front of and behind (Aaron Sorkin created this) the camera but it never found its footing or audience and the cast never truly gelled.

  3. I must be one of the few that really liked Smash and we match with that show. I need to watch Slings and Arrows...shame on me for being Canadian, loving Paul Gross and never seeing this show. My excuse is this was exactly the time my world blew up and I separated from my husband and became very ill so I shall stick to that one. For some reason, I never watched 30 Rock but maybe I will give it a try one day. My current hubby (which i am very happy with) never wanted to watch it so I didn't give it a chance. We only have 1 TV in the house

  4. 30 Rock! Love that show. Baldwin and Krakowski are hysterical

  5. Don't most musicals have a problem when it comes to storytelling? ;-)

  6. Great call on 30Rock. Such a fun show. Not familiar with the others.

  7. Slings & Arrows - Have not heard of this at all. Have to look out for this if it ever come up on Netflix.