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Archive for the ‘Television’

The X-Files: The truth should’ve stayed out there.

February 12, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Television No Comments →

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NO ONE was more excited about the return of The X-Files than I was. In the 1990s, that show was my life in an alternate universe. I never met a limb-stretching serial killer who killed people and stole their livers, then hibernated for 30 years in a nest of newspapers, but Tooms was an improvement on some people I knew. (At least Tooms admitted he was a monster.) I did meet some of my favorite people because of The X-Files — they would send me unsigned letters sealed with an X in aluminum foil. On my radio show we would spend an hour discussing the latest episodes, particularly the progress of the Fox Mulder-Dana Scully relationship, whether David Duchovny broke out of deadpan, and whether he could be legally compelled to wear the tiny red Speedo more often. (Obviously we had no advertisers.) Hell, I read Gravity’s Rainbow because it was the subject of Duchovny’s doctoral dissertation.

In case you are very young or were in a cult during the ’90s, The X-Files was about FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, whose obsession with extraterrestrials and paranormal phenomena began with what he believes to be the abduction of his younger sister by aliens when he was 12. The FBI puts him in charge of the X-Files, the department which looks into weird, unexplained occurrences, then assigns Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as his partner. Scully, a skeptic, a pragmatist, and a medical doctor, debunks Mulder’s theories at first, but as the series progresses she becomes a reluctant believer. It helped the series that its two stars had mad chemistry — I, for one, am still waiting for them to announce that they’ve been together all this time.

Read our TV column The Binge.

Uro

February 07, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies, Television 1 Comment →

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Uro dela Cruz, who died on Thursday, was a brilliant fictionist, screenwriter, film and TV director, photographer and amateur anthropologist. He was 64. He had shelves full of awards, including seven Palancas, that he was grateful for but did not talk about. Crowing about his achievements embarrassed him — the important thing was the work, and even that he barely discussed. It became a running joke: ask him how many TV shows he was directing at the same time, and he would say, “None.” “You don’t direct Bubble Gang anymore?” we would press him. “That show practically directs itself,” he would shrug. After we had peeled away layers of semantic obfuscation, we would learn that in addition to the comedy show he helmed for two decades, he was directing two game shows and a sitcom starring Manny Pacquiao. No wonder it took him ages to reply to texts and phone calls.

All these accomplishments — the shows ranging from Battle of the Brains to Bubble Gang that defined pop culture and Pinoy humor (he wanted to set up a website called Wackipedia as an archive of jokes); the now-classic films he wrote, including Virgin Forest and Scorpio Nights; the amateur urban archeology that led to a trove of photos by Teodulo Protomartir; the novel Antyng-Antyng (Kwadrisentenyal), which remained unpublished until we kidnapped the manuscript and sent it to a publisher — these are sidebars to the life of Rosauro Quevedo Dela Cruz of Lucban, Quezon. What Uro really excelled at was being a human being. He was a devoted husband to Anna, who runs the household with military precision, whom he described as the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. He was a terrific father to Tata, Toto and Dodong, whom he deprived of any issues they can report to a psychiatrist later in life because they could talk about everything. He was a marvelous friend — kind, generous, deadpan funny, fiercely intelligent, a human Google of arcane knowledge, and he would be the first to point out that there are too many adjectives in this sentence. Uro was one of the finest people I’ve ever known. It’s all downhill from here.

Continue reading in the Philippine Star

Mozart in the Jungle: Mad Genius, or Drama Queen?

February 01, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Television No Comments →

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FROM THE TITLE I thought it was an adaptation of Fitzcarraldo, the Werner Herzog movie about a would-be rubber baron who dreams of building an opera house in the Amazon. The mad glare of Klaus Kinski emanating from a TV screen — the prospect is both terrifying and thrilling. But the jungle in the title of the Amazon series is strictly concrete: New York City, home of the fictional New York Symphony. Its resident madman Rodrigo De Souza, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, does his own glaring, with the opposite effect. Like a video of a cat surprised by a cucumber, it’s adorable.

Created by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzmann and Alex Timbers, Mozart in the Jungle is a comedy about classical musicians, eccentric geniuses, and the everlasting clash between money and art. “Do we raise funds in order to make music, or make music in order to raise funds?” asks Rodrigo, who is so famous he goes by one name. A former child prodigy, he has replaced the conductor and musical director Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell). When he’s not upsetting tradition by holding open auditions, changing the program, or taking the orchestra out for an unsanctioned open-air performance, he’s at fund-raisers, trundled out like Exhibit A for society matrons with checkbooks. He’ll play the game, but he has his limits, rejecting an ad campaign called “Hear the Hair,” then sawing off his famous locks.

Continue reading our column

Better Call Saul: The moving story of an honest sleazeball

January 22, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Television 4 Comments →

“YOU’RE the kind of lawyer guilty people hire,” the embezzler’s wife tells Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk). Even the most clueless criminal can tell that the protagonist of Better Call Saul is a shady character. But when the AMC series begins, Jimmy has not fully embraced the shady side. He’s still trying to do the right thing — it’s just that in Jimmy’s world, “good” and “bad” are relative. Yes, he gets a pair of scam artists in trouble, but he does bargain their punishment down from death to one broken leg each. All things considered, that’s a great lawyer. Great-ish.

Better Call Saul is the story of the man who would become Saul Goodman (As in, “It’s all good, man”), the unscrupulous lawyer on Breaking Bad. Many of the characters from Breaking Bad deserve their own series — I would watch one in which Badger pitches story ideas to Hollywood, or Gus Fring cooks chicken — but Saul is an excellent choice. Not only does he find creative solutions for dire situations, not only is he a vending machine of hilarious quotes, but he takes such delight in being his scuzzy self. He’s not a hypocrite. Everyone should love their job as much as Saul does. “Don’t drink and drive,” he reminds his clients, “But if you do, call me.”

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

Fargo Season 2 and the thrill of storytelling

January 15, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Television No Comments →

EVERYONE thinks they’re the hero of their own story. History is made up of all their stories bumping up against each other. How do you make sense of this chaos? What does it all mean? Does it mean anything? (No, says Albert Camus, from a paperback that a teenage clerk is reading, existence is absurd. “I don’t know who that is, but I’m guessing he doesn’t have a six-year-old girl,” retorts Betsy the cancer-stricken housewife.) At best we can tease out a pattern of actions and consequences, then impose a beginning and an end to create narrative cohesion. But you need time and distance in order to do this. What if you’re inside the story as it’s happening?

In the amazing second season of Noah Hawley’s Fargo, the characters can be too engrossed with composing their own stories to see the bigger story of America, or the even bigger story of the universe. There are UFOs in this season, because in 1979 they were all over the place, and because they fit in this series. Fargo 2 is so enthralling that after the initial “Holy crap, UFOs!” you just accept that they’re there, turning up at odd moments like cinematography aids.

Read our column on Fargo season 2 in The Binge.

Sherlock fans, collect your New Year’s present

January 08, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Television 5 Comments →

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SHERLOCK fans are among the most patient fans on earth, and they have to be. Since the BBC series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss premiered in 2010, there have been exactly nine episodes, 10 if you count the one-off holiday special that aired last week. The fans have used the time between episodes to create endless tumblr pages and memes featuring Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Check out the one demonstrating his resemblance to an otter) and Martin Freeman, write fan fiction about Holmes and Watson, organize a worldwide army (Cumberbitches), and report on every move made by Cumberbatch and Freeman. I would probably not stalk the Cumberbatch, but I might consider replacing my library if he were to record all the volumes as audiobooks.

Read our column The Binge at BusinessWorld.