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New Shows: January 25 - 31, 2014

A week of bad pirates, bad daughters, and bad spies offset by some good biography, awards, music, and sport.

The New Shows color code: red means don’t bother; blue means maybe; green means good; magenta means great.

Black Sails (Starz)
Toby Stephens is a pirate! This is going to be a swashbuckling guilty pleasure. If only. Too much land, not enough sea. Too much talk, not enough action. Too many naked women cavorting around because… I’m not sure why. Because they can? Too much graphic violence that seems to be there simply to be gross. This one was a huge disappointment.

bref. (Pivot)
This is a series that took France by storm. A thirty-year-old Parisian guy is dealing with the realities of his life -- no woman, no job, and parents who are divorcing. Each “episode” is just over a minute long and are shown in blocks of about twelve minutes. Some of the episodes were silly, but some made me laugh out loud. If you are looking for something very different from the American television norm, check this one out.

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe (Lifetime)
I tend to avoid Lifetime movies as they are usually predictable drivel. The title of this one and the fact that Lizzie is played by Christina Ricci made me watch. This movie makes no secret of the fact that Lizzie did, indeed, kill her parents and Ricci is obviously having fun playing the sociopath that Lizzie was. The problem is that, because we know the outcome from the beginning, there is no dramatic tension and Ricci’s performance is not enough to carry the film. Not a complete waste of time, but far from as compelling as it might have been.

Shaun White: Russia Calling (NBC)
Shaun White is, no question, the greatest snowboarder ever. He is now facing what every athlete eventually must -- he is aging, his body is beginning to give out, the younger kids are coming along behind him and doing things he can’t. This hour long special was a fascinating look at what he went through to make it to the Olympics next week. Worth a watch if you are at all interested in sport.

56th Annual Grammy Awards (CBS)
The Bachelor: Sean and Catherine’s Wedding (ABC)

2014 Breakthrough Prizes (Science)
As awards season rages on and television and film personalities continually pat themselves on the back, it was nice to pause and watch an awards show that honored people who are doing truly extraordinary things. The Breakthrough Prizes recognize excellence in research aimed at curing disease and extending human life. These prizes are not only honorary; they are life-changing. Each is accompanied by an award of $3 million to enable the researcher to carry on with his or her work. What is exceptional is that the past winners choose this year’s winners. What is clear is that we need to get more women and people of color into the sciences.

Hosted by Kevin Spacey, much of the show centered on the scientists themselves and not the celebrities who were there. What struck me as I watched this was how much science is happening every day, how brilliant these people are, and how great it is that Mark Zuckerberg has used some of his billions to shine a light on these inspiring people.

The winners were:
  • Richard Lifton, who discovered the molecular causes of high blood pressure
  • James Allison, who is researching using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer
  • Mahlon DeLong, whose work on the brain is leading to cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Robert Langer, who has invented new bio-materials and controlled drug-release systems
  • Michael Hall, who completely re-wrote what we understood about cell division and growth
  • Alexander Varshavsky, whose work on how cells break down proteins is leading to cures for all types of disease

There is also the Fundamental Physics Prize. Each of the nominees is working in string theory, but the winners, Michael Green and John Schwarz, won “for opening new perspectives on quantum gravity and the unification of forces.” OK, then.

Raging Nature (Weather Channel)
Rod N Wheels (Discovery)

Border Rico (Travel Channel)
The Capones (Reelz)

Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond (BBCAmerica)
Everyone who has ever bothered to read even a snippet about the life of Ian Fleming knows how much of his life was turned into his famous character. In this miniseries, however, the producers have chosen to focus on all that was unpleasant about the man. Fleming is portrayed as arrogant, rude, misogynistic, and worst of all, a crashing bore. I didn’t make it through the first hour.

Hawking (PBS)
A wonderful autobiographical documentary about the life and work of this fascinating man. It doesn’t delve too deeply into some things I wish it had, but I did learn some things I didn’t know. More importantly, the man is an inspiration. I recommend this if you are at all interested in science and/or biography.

Miley Cyrus: MTV Unplugged (MTV)
Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials 2014 (CBS)

Celebrity Home Raiders (Lifetime)

Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust - The Bridge to Russia (Showtime)
As I write this review, I understand that some of you will think I have completely lost my mind. This documentary, about Billy Joel’s 1987 concert tour to the USSR, made me sob. Not just weep a little around the edges, actually sob. It is a wonderful account of the trip, the people he met, and the difference he made in Russian culture. What affected me so much was the way Joel was with everyone he met and the way the young Russians responded to him, especially a young man named Viktor who followed Joel around the country. Yes, he is the inspiration for “Leningrad,” one of the great Billy Joel songs. Admittedly, I am a huge Billy Joel fan. If you are even slightly a fan or if you are at all interested in cultural history, don’t miss this.

Documentary of the Week:
I had to face facts this week. There is no way that I can (a) catch up on Doux Reviews, (b) keep up with the New Shows, (c) have any semblance of a life like, you know, go to work, and (d) watch all the movies nominated for an Oscar. Paring down my expectations, I decided to watch the five nominated documentaries and post a quick review of each at the end of the columns leading up to the March 2 air date for the Academy Awards.

Because she and I are psychic (you didn’t know that, did you?), within six hours of my making the decision, I got an email from sunbunny that said, “If you haven't seen [The Square] yet, you simply MUST. I know how much you like a good documentary and this one was just…tears. So many tears.”

An incredibly moving film (yes, so many tears), this tells the story of two years of the Egyptian revolution. The reason this works so well is that the people we come to know are not perfect, George Washington types. They are real people, who occasionally make very bad choices, but who fervently believe in their cause. Nor are we only shown one side of the debate. The most compelling person portrayed is a man torn between his country and his religion.

This film is tough to watch, but worth the effort. You can stream it on Netflix.

NBC is having a big week. The Winter Olympics coverage will start on Thursday the 6th with the opening ceremony the following day. Jay Leno’s final night as the host of The Tonight Show will also air Thursday the 6th.


  1. We are psychic though. It's weird.

    Sorry to hear you didn't like Black Sails. I was considering giving it a go, but maybe not anymore. Only had a vague curiosity about Lizzie Borden. Where has Christina Ricci been keeping herself? I feel like she hasn't done much in recent years.

  2. Black Sails wasn't terrible, but it didn't quite blow me outta the water yet. The actor who plays John Silver is kind of a weenie. I don't recall that much graphic violence though. Which scenes do you mean?

    I'll stick around for the filthy, unwashed, morally wretched pirates. And it wouldn't be the first time a Starz show started kinda weak and then becoming really friggin' great.

  3. Oh, and pardon the pun, I totally didn't mean to do that.

  4. The Ian Fleming show was weird! I was excited about it, since I'm currently reading Jake Arnott's House of Rumour, which has a few chapters on Fleming. But he was just unlikable in the first episode, and I couldn't understand why all the women wanted to sleep with such a cad.

  5. Freeman -- the scene that was too graphic for me was the final sword fight of the pilot. While I love a good sword fight between pirates, this one took the violence to a level that I found almost impossible to watch.

    If you keep watching, I'll be interested to know if it improves. Many of the reviews I read said that it gets weaker as it goes on, but what do reviewers know?


    Josie -- agreed. Fleming was so awful to the women around him, I couldn't figure out what made him so irresistible to them. He was especially awful to his wife in that first scene. I was instantly turned off by him.

  6. Oh that scene? I didn't think it was so bad. I found it rather refreshing as taking a man's life is no easy thing. Emphasized the brutality and lawlessness that was ingrained in pirate culture. I also liked it because they spent the whole episode talking about how scary Flynt was, and that scene really showed you what he was willing to do to come out on top, both in his deceit and in combat.

    Different strokes for different folks and all that I guess.

  7. I, too, was disappointed in "Black Sails," and, therefore, didn't bother with the second episode last night.

    Note: Toby Stephens (not Toby Keith) was the lead in it. He's the son of Dame Maggie Smith and the late Sir Robert Stephens.

  8. Barbara -- thanks for catching that! I have been a fan of Stephens since his version of Jane Eyre, so I was very excited to spend more time with him. Maybe next time.


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