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HBO's Meet the Donors is a priceless, cost-efficient film on those who throw millions into the country's biggest game-changing political campaigns


We’re again at the height of buck-hunting season. HBO photo

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Supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis is a pudgy, plain-faced man whose money has bought him a lot of pictures on his walls in the company of prominent politicians from both major political parties.

He enjoys showing them off to filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi in HBO’s revelatory and highly entertaining Meet the Donors: Does Money Talk? The 65-minute documentary premieres Monday, Aug. 1st at 8 p.m. central.

Catsimatidis estimates he has given over $100 million to the nation’s highest office-seekers. In return he’s been to Camp David “a few times” during both Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s presidencies; hosted Clinton at his apartment for a surprise birthday party while he was still president; and currently enjoys being photographed with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Besides them, Catsimatidis also has photos with Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney and John Boehner among many.

His mother planted the seeds, he says, telling him, “John, you want to pee with the large dogs.” And so he has in pursuit of all those vanity plate pictures and the certitude that his phone calls will always be answered. Giving “a few million” to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is a small price to pay. In fact, it’s “nothing,” Catsimatidis shrugs.

Pelosi, plucky daughter of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi, says she went to OpenSecrets.org to identify America’s biggest givers to political campaigns. “Not surprisingly,” she says, “only a handful” were willing to appear on camera. But in fact, it’s striking to see how many of these people she persuaded to play ball with her. And how quotable and even gruffly charming they can be while Pelosi aims her hand-held camera at them and asks pointed questions in a fairly congenial way.

Haim Saban, the “media mogul” whose cash cows have included He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Power Rangers, is a delight in his own inimitable way.

“It’s my freakin’ private business,” he retorts when Pelosi asks him how much he’s given to the Clintons. He admires Hillary for being liberal on social issues and a hawk on foreign affairs. But what kind of influence does his money buy? “Somewhere between zero and minus two,” he contends.

Pelosi is incredulous, prompting Saban’s still fractured English to emerge when he tells her he’s trying to explain himself “but it’s not sinking in your interviewer’s very hard-headed woman!” Priceless -- and no offense is taken by Pelosi.

She also talks to Minnesota-based “broadcasting tycoon” Stanley Hubbard, a rock-ribbed GOP donor who agrees that he gets access in return for his money but has never asked a politician to “help me with something.”

Not that he doesn’t have strong views. There are too many “tree-hugging fruitcakes wandering around” who want to regulate everything, Hubbard says. And a bit later: “If we had global warming, that would be the best thing that could happen.”

Cardiologist Bruce Charash, who enjoys throwing lavish fundraising parties for big-time politicians, says it’s appearances that count when someone sees him in a grip ’n’ grin photo with Obama or Hillary Clinton. “Never underestimate the projection of power,” he counsels. Because people react differently “when they think you have power” -- even if you really don’t.

Republican “mega-donor” Brad Freeman, who’s donated millions to the Bush family, says he does so in large part because ‘I like to be in the game. It’s fun.”

However, he did expect to receive a plum appointment when George W. Bush phoned him after he was elected president. Instead, “I got the friggin’ cat,” Freeman says, referring to Bush’s request that he take care of the clawed family feline, who was too old to be declawed and therefore could do considerable damage to White House furnishings.

T. Boone Pickens remains proud of the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” attack ads he bankrolled in order to hurt the candidacy of Vietnam War veteran John Kerry, who was portrayed as a liar and a coward.

“The Swift Boat deal, I think won the election” for George W. Bush, Pickens says. But “I can’t think of anything he did (as president) that made me a dime.”

Pelosi fails to land the two biggest fish, Charles and David Koch, who refused to sit down with her. But the film is rich anyway.

Meet the Donors closes with a segment on the effort to take big money out of politics. Ironically, Barack Obama is largely responsible for torpedoing public funding of presidential campaigns. In 2008, he turned down the maximum $84 million in taxpayer money available to his candidacy because he didn’t think it was enough anymore. The Obama campaign instead raised over $1 billion on its own before the U.S. Supreme Court later removed all restrictions on how much “Super PACS” could pour into political campaigns.

Vin Ryan, former Democratic candidate “mega-donor,” says he now has “stopped writing checks to anyone who does not support campaign finance reform . . . You have government by a few people for the benefit of a very few people.” Ergo, a plutocracy, Ryan says.

His grandson is by his side when he says this from the porch of a nestled, isolated home on an idyllic-looking Rhode Island island. “I hope he never becomes a lobbyist,” granddad adds.

Meet the Donors likely won’t remedy a thing. But as an up-close look at some of the country’s biggest political givers and takers, it’s something of an instant post-convention classic premiering at the start of a money-fueled, three-month sprint to the Election Day finish line.

Grade: A

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Colbert's opening video a psychedelic happening after Monday night's Democratic convention

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From a visual standpoint alone, the “Death. Taxes. Hillary” video that opened Stephen Colbert’s live Monday Late Show soared into the stratosphere of what we’ve seen on our TV screens.

But the song was dead-catchy, too. And the psychedelic setting and costuming were also out of his world. As he did with the Republicans, Colbert will mess with the Democrats this week after their nightly convention activities in Philly. But he’ll find it hard to top this particular joy of discovery. If you didn’t see it, see it now.

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A disgraced Ailes is out after 20 years of ruling a news network as no one ever had or likely ever will again


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Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News Channel since its launch nearly 20 years ago, resigned in disgrace Thursday, although the official 21st Century Fox announcement makes no mention of the sexual harassment scandal that brought him down.

Ailes, 76, will be replaced for now by 85-year-old Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox. Murdoch remains frisky, though, having recently married Mick Jagger’s ex-wife, Jerry Hall. The couple were vacationing in the French Riviera when Murdoch cut the trip short to attend to the Ailes situation.

“I am personally committed to ensuring that Fox News remains a distinctive, powerful voice,” Murdoch said in a statement. “Our nation needs a robust Fox News to resonate from every corner of the country.”

Ailes, who coined the slogan “Fair and Balanced” and led FNC to ratings dominance over cable news rivals CNN and MSNBC, was sued earlier this month by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, who accused him of repeated sexual harassment and advances.

A number of women currently employed by FNC rallied to Ailes’ defense while an internal corporate investigation got underway. But his fate was sealed when the network’s star woman player, Megyn Kelly, reportedly told investigators that she also had been sexually harassed by Ailes. Several other women reportedly also came forward. His forced resignation comes on the same day that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is scheduled to make his acceptance speech at the party’s national convention in Cleveland. Ailes had been directing FNC’s convention coverage this week.

Notable for being both prickly and outspoken in his defense of FNC’s conservative leanings, “Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years,” Murdoch said in his statement. “It is always difficult to create a channel or a publication from the ground up and against seemingly entrenched monopolies . . . Roger has defied the odds. His grasp of policy and his ability to make profoundly important issues accessible to a broader audience stand in stark contrast to the self-serving elitism that characterizes far too much of the media.”

FNC debuted on Oct. 7, 1996 and initially was thought to be a long shot to survive against MSNBC, a marriage of NBC and Bill Gates’ Microsoft company that launched on July 15th of the same year with about twice as many subscribers. Ailes, formerly a key media consultant in the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, had a taste for the jugular and how to get there.

In a telephone interview with this reporter several days before FNC’s birth, he assailed Time Warner Inc. and its chairman, Gerald Levin, for allegedly reneging on an agreement to put FNC on half of the 11.2 million cable homes it served at the time. Time Warner instead went with MSNBC.

“Yeah, Gerry Levin lied to Rupert Murdoch, apparently,” Ailes said. “”Many Time Warner shareholders perceive Gerry to have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I’m sure he took orders from Ted (Turner Broadcasting chairman Ted Turner) to keep us off. I don’t know that Gerry has the guts to do it on his own. In any case, it is a betrayal.” He added that both Time Warner and Turner both were “dragging around debt like a dead body. It’s like Weekend at Bernie’s.”

Ailes said he wasn’t particularly concerned with “liberal or conservative bias” in mapping out his game plan for FNC. “The issue is fundamental fairness,” he said while competing with the pings of hammers pounding his New York offices into shape. “It’s not unlike affirmative action in my mind. You give other people an opportunity to get into the mainstream. What I’m trying to get my journalists to understand is that when they do a story, they shouldn’t ‘spin’ it in a way they think is correct. A lot of print journalists get this. For some reason, electronic journalists are having a much harder time with it.”

Ailes’ charter hires at FNC included Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, both of whom remain with the network and host prime-time shows. He also initially found a slot for former Dallas judge Catherine Crier, who left ABC News to get in on the FNC ground floor.

“I’ve always respected Roger tremendously,” she said at the time. “And when he came on board, I knew there was tremendous opportunity to really create something different.”

Ailes also contended back then that he wanted to diminish the face time of both anchors and reporters.

“We’re going to provide people with more straight information so they can make up their own minds,” he said. “Electronic journalism has gotten a little arrogant. Some of the anchors and reporters are spending more time on camera than the people they’re covering. We’re going to try to change that.”

It didn’t happen, with O’Reilly, Hannity and Kelly all at the forefront of their shows while newsmakers and various analysts are strictly supporting players if that.

Ailes’ big crash Thursday leaves FNC both wobbly and without the maestro who called all the shots since Day One. Rupert Murdoch’s two sons, Lachlan and James, who also issued statements in praise of Ailes Thursday, will someday be running the 21st Century Fox ship. In his glory years, Ailes branded FNC as no network head ever has. Whether anyone can measure up to him is very much hanging in the air.

In the end, though, Ailes hung himself. Like many an aging giant, he stayed too long at the party, increasingly drank in his power and then soiled himself.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's Vice Principals is infantile and too often just vile


Ugh: Walton Goggins, Danny McBride of Vice Principals. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, July 17th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, Georgia King, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Busy Phillipps, Shea Whigham, Sheaun McKinney, Maya G. Love
Produced by: Danny McBride, Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, Stephanie Laing

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The timing will never be right for a particular extended scene in the new Danny McBride “comedy” Vice Principals.

But seriously, could the timing be much worse?

Early in Episode 2 of this HBO series, festering high school vice principals Neal Gamby (McBride) and Lee Russell (co-star Walton Goggins of The Shield and Justified fame) break into the home of North Jackson High’s new principal, a black single mom named Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). Both very much wanted her job, and now they’re conspiring to drive her out before resuming their f-bomb-laced rivalry.

They begin by impulsively breaking her possessions one by one. And then trashing the whole place before burning it completely to the ground. This isn’t portrayed as a racial hate crime, although these two neanderthals would be fully capable. Given what’s happened over the past two weeks, though, this extended scene is completely and irresponsibly out of bounds. It’s also destructive on so many other levels. Yes, it obviously was filmed before the shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas. No, that shouldn’t matter in the least. Because this isn’t comedy -- unless perhaps you’re a Klan member.

Based on watching the six episodes made available for review, Vice Principals can be coarsely amusing in fits and spurts. But when it’s bad, it’s horrid. As it is again in Episode 3, when Coggins’ Russell describes in beyond vile terms how the new black principal smells. This episode also works in a nude scene involving a high school girl on a field trip. (The actress presumably was “of age,” but the image is still beyond gratuitous.)

McBride, who co-created Vice Principals, certainly did not make nice during four seasons of HBO’s East Bound and Down, in which he played a washed up pitcher turned middle school phy ed teacher. While on that job, his anger issues made Charlie Sheen look like Gene Wilder.

In Vice Principals, which features an opening cameo by Bill Murray as the departing principal, McBride apparently feels the need to up the ante and be even more crude and abusive. His character is matched and then some by Goggins’ conniving, amoral Lee, whose Asian-American wife has a live-in mother who does nothing but rant in her native tongue.

McBride has gotten notably beefier to play Neal. He’s stuffed into his clothes and otherwise full of himself, whether cursing students as though they were dockworkers or trying to make moves on a sweet new blonde English teacher named Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King).

Neal also has a chunky daughter, Janelle (Maya G. Love), from a previous marriage to Gale (Busy Phillipps), who’s now the wife of well-meaning motocross racer Ray Liptrapp (Shea Whigham). Although regularly referencing his daughter’s weight, Neal is halfway refined in her presence. But his main objective is to one-up his ex- and Ray, who have custody.

There’s also a jive-talking school cafeteria worker named Dayshawn (Sheaun McKinney), who’s reminiscent of J.B. Smoove’s recurring Leon Black in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Curb likewise exults in bringing political correctness to its knees. But it does so with sharply honed humor and sometimes even substance. Vice Principals, in contrast, is a sitcom that immediately steps in dog crap and then can’t scrape it off. HBO has ordered just 18 episodes and plans to spread them over two seasons before calling an end to things. Perhaps the end could come sooner, though. Maybe before that second episode ever gets a chance to soil a network that by now should know much better than this.


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68th Prime-Time Emmy nominations: Game of Thrones again rules but FX is biggest gainer in major categories


He’s alive! Kit Harrington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. HBO photo

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HBO’s Game of Thrones led all programs in Emmy nominations for the third straight year while FX’s The Americans is among the Best Drama Series contenders for the first time.

The 68th annual Emmy nods, announced Thursday by the Television Academy, put Game of Thrones on top with 23 nominations, one fewer than last year and one more this time around than FX’s The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

FX, which upped its yearly Emmy nominations total to 56 from 38, also scored big with Season 2 of Fargo, which ran third among all programming with 18 nominations.

The network’s American Horror Story: Hotel likewise placed among the top 10 finishers with eight nominations. But FX’s The Americans, a critical darling whose first three seasons had been snubbed in major Emmy categories, may be the most gratifying contender. It received six nominations, including first-time recognition for its two leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, as well as the breakthrough Best Drama Series nod. In the Best Limited Series or Movie category, FX has a total of six acting nominations for People v. O. J. Simpson.

HBO’s Veep had the most comedy series nominations with 17, and the network’s Silicon Valley also made an impressive showing with 11. HBO again will be formidable in the Best Television Movie category with All the Way, which has eight nominations. Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington, whose risen-from-the-dead character, Jon Snow, clogged “social media” arteries this year, received first-time Emmy recognition as a supporting actor nominee. Still, HBO’s total of Emmy nods plunged from 126 last year to 94, which is still more than good enough to easily lead all networks.

Netflix also flexed, upping its nomination total to 54 from 34 last year to rank a close third behind FX. Its biggest showing came with House of Cards, which has 13 nominations. Netflix’s first-year Master of None is among the Best Comedy Series contenders, along with the streaming network’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The year’s most-talked about true crime documentary series, Netflix’s Making a Murderer, had six nominations.

Among the longstanding Big Four broadcast networks, NBC’s Saturday Night Live had the most nominations with 16. But for the most part it was another poor showing overall for NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. Only ABC has contenders in the four major scripted categories, with black-ish making a big breakthrough as a Best Comedy Series nominee to join that network’s perennial Modern Family. ABC’s American Crime also deservedly made the cut in the Best Limited Series category.

PBS ranked behind all four commercial broadcast networks in total nominations. But its 26 nods included the last season of Downton Abbey for Best Drama Series and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride in the Best Television Movie field.

Other Emmy highlights:

***USA network’s freshman Mr. Robot weighed in with six nominations, including for Best Drama Series and Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Rami Malek).

***Half of AMC’s 24 nominations went to its limited series The Night Manager while the second season of Better Call Saul chipped in with seven nods.

***For unfathomable reasons, Emmy voters gave Fox’s Grease: Live! 10 nominations compared to six for NBC’s superior The Wiz Live!.

***Game of Thrones and Veep, respectively the defending champs in the Best Drama and Comedy Series categories, will return to defend their titles. But the surest winners appear to be People v. O. J. Simpson in the Best Limited Series category and All the Way as Best Movie.

***Among this year’s nominees, Kevin Spacey of House of Cards has the longest drought. He’s been to the plate eight previous times without a win. In contrast, Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Veep now has a total of 21 nominations and has won on seven previous occasions, including last year.

***Overall, Emmy voters were bracingly savvy this year. It helped to expand the Best Drama and Comedy Series categories to seven entrants apiece. But with so many quality television and streaming candidates in the mix, it’s impossible to please everyone. I would have liked to have seen young Connor Jessup receive a nomination for his exemplary work in American Crime. FX’s Baskets would have been a daring choice in the Best Comedy Series slot, but at least Louie Anderson got a best supporting actor nomination for playing Zach Galifianakis’ overbearing mom. And as mentioned earlier, The Wiz Live! deserved better. But really, that’s about it. And that’s saying something when it comes to the oft-maligned Emmy choices from seasons past.

The prime-time Emmy ceremony is on ABC this year -- on Sunday, Sept. 18th. Jimmy Kimmel hosts.

For a complete list of winners, go here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Netflix's Stranger Things: an ode in the mode of E.T.


Winona Ryder is ready and able in Stranger Things. Netflix photo

Premiering: All eight episodes streaming on Netflix, beginning Friday, July 15th
Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Matthew Modine, Millie Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, Noah Schnapp, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Joe Chrest, Randall P. Havens, Peyton Wich
Produced by: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen

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“The Duffer Brothers,” as they’re identified in the credits for Stranger Things, are twins with a jones for otherworldly events, secretive, diabolical authorities and, in this particular case, the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

The limited, previous credits of collaborative Matt and Ross Duffer include Hidden and Fox’s ongoing Wayward Pines. But Netflix’s Stranger Things, which begins streaming all eight episodes on Friday, July 15th, clearly is their first full-fledged epic of sorts. Its parallels to E.T. become obvious but not to the point of anything resembling a full-blown remake. In fact, Stranger Things also can be seen as a nod to the much lesser known Eerie, Indiana, a short-lived 1991 series about hyper-imaginative, bike-riding kids intent on investigating and solving a series of strange happenings in their small Midwestern town.

Stranger Things originally was titled Montauk, and set in a small Long Island town of that name when announced in April of last year. The venue is now Hawkins, Indiana, circa 1983. The series’ principal adult characters, played by Winona Ryder and David Harbour, are both coping with divorces and senses of loss. But although key to the storyline, Stranger Things is mostly built on a foundation of kids in their early teens.

Two of them, Will (Noah Schnapp) and his older brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), belong to Ryder’s Joyce Byers. Will and his three geeky pals, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Galen Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), are addicted to a fantastical board game that very much resembles Dungeons & Dragons. While riding home one night after another long night of play, Will ventures near the reliably sinister and off-limits Hawkins National Laboratory, supposedly run by the U.S. Department of Energy and commanded by steely Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). Uh-oh, Will suddenly vanishes.

The community’s unkempt chief of police, Jim Hopper (Harbour), initially is under-concerned while Joyce Byers shifts immediately into frantic mode. Ryder, it should be noted, is very good at displaying utter desperation and anguish. Her pain and steadfast belief that Will is still alive and communicating with her are key, core elements in the twisting plot that propels these eight chapters through subtitles ranging from “Holly, Jolly” to “The Monster.”

Meanwhile, the E.T. element kicks in when a largely mute young girl with a buzz cut and “011” tattooed on her arm wanders into Benny Burgers. The ill-fated owner takes pity on the waif and feeds her. But he also calls the “authorities,” which in dramas such as this is never a good idea.

“Eleven” (Millie Brown), who had been held captive and experimented upon at the Hawkins Laboratory, eventually is taken in by Mike, who dubs her “El” for short. She has little knowledge of the “real world,” prompting Mike to both tutor and hide her. “What is ‘friend,’ “ she asks poignantly.

After much ado about what to do with her, Mike and his friends enlist El to help them find Will. She has powers beyond mere mortals, triggered by intense concentration that causes nose bleeds and overall fatigue. El’s replenishing fuel of choice is Eggo waffles in place of the Reese’s Pieces deployed in E.T..

Older kids also get involved. Mike’s sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), is trying to be a good girl in the face of determined advances by a boy named Steve (Joe Keery), who’s not all bad. Will’s introverted brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), strives to calm his outwardly crazed mother before eventually teaming with Nancy on a seek and destroy mission.

All eight episodes of Stranger Things were made available for review. Binge-watchers can be assured that there’s closure at the end of them, but also a few string-along loose ends in case a second season emerges.

In this case, though, a single-shot “limited series” seems like the way to go -- and then stop. Stranger Things, buoyed by its considerable kid power and bolstered by Ryder’s strong work, tells a complete and pretty satisfying story despite a few plot pot holes. Getting to know the central kids is a good part of the fun amid all the serious business at hand. But this is anything but a spoof. Instead it’s a fantastical story of ingenuity and determination triggered by strange and also very bad things happening to a dinky Indiana town. The rooting interests are many and varied in a drama that’s held together by the strength of its convictions and characters.


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HBO's captivating The Night Of sets its hook for seven more Sunday nights after


John Turturro, as rumpled New York lawyer Jack Stone, very ably steps in for the late James Gandolfini in The Night Of. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, July 10th at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: John Turturro, Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, Jeannie Berlin, Amara Karan, Peyman Moaadi, Poorna Jagannathan, Michael K. Williams, Glenne Headly, Sofia Black D’Elia
Produced by: Peter Moffat, James Gandolfini, Jane Granter, Richard Price, Steve Zaillian

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There’s a lesser crime, besides murder, connected to The Night Of.

It’s that HBO did not provide the concluding eighth episode for review. And with a drama this good, that ends up being at least a misdemeanor offense, even if those who have seen the first seven episodes might argue for a stiffer penalty.

This is HBO’s best “limited series” since Angels in America, which in 2004 won all of the major Emmy awards in its category. The Night Of, adapted from the 2008 British series Criminal Justice, arrives too late in the game to be eligible for this year’s Emmys. But unless it completely collapses with its final chapter, look for much Emmy love the next time around.

John Turturro heads the cast as a Columbo-esque, dirty-to-the-touch New York City lawyer named Jack Stone, whose sandal-clad feet are ravaged by eczema. The role originally was written for the late James Gandolfini, who retains a co-executive producer’s credit more than three years after his death.

The Night Of officially gets underway on Sunday, July 10th, although its 90-minute opening episode has been available online for several weeks. By the end of it, young, American-born Muslim Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) has been implicated in the grisly stabbing death of 22-year-old Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black D’Elia). It all happened on the night of Oct. 24, 2014 after Andrea got into a cab that Nasir clandestinely had “borrowed” from his father in hopes of attending a hot party and perhaps hooking up with someone. But this impromptu one-night stand turns out to be laced with drugs, booze, dangerous games and a blackout after sex. So what really happened?

Both Nasir and Andrea are blessed with movie star good looks. But The Night Of in large part soars on the strength of a plain brown wrapper trio of Stone, seen-it-all detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) and an eventual lead prosecutor named Helen (Jeannie Berlin). All three are “ordinary” looking and to varying degrees beaten down by their respective professions. None of them will ever be a Vogue model.

Turturro’s Stone basically is an ambulance-chaser whose clients are mostly dregs. But he wouldn’t at all mind being more famous and better compensated. And while making his appointed rounds in a dreary police precinct house, he sights Nasir before asking as a matter of course, “Hey, what’s with Gunga Din in there?” Well, it’s much bigger than he had thought.

The laconic Detective Box on the other hand is intent on prying a confession out of Nasir. He probes and prods without seeming to do so. “I’m trying to help you. Help me help you,” he cajoles before Stone intercedes to tell his new client to “shut it.”

By Episode 2, Nasir is starting to realize what Box is all about.

“He seems like a nice man,” his mother, Safar (Pooma Jagannathan), says.

“He’s a subtle beast,” Nasir replies.

Stone isn’t a particularly nice man either. He’s mainly intent on sealing a retainer fee with the defendant’s financially hard-pressed parents. But the case itself also could be priceless and perhaps even winnable. “He’s as clean as Donny Osmond,” Stone tells Helen, who’s jousted with him before.

The slow, evidence-seeking road to a trial date is juxtaposed with Nasir’s incarceration without bail in the hard core Riker’s Island prison. It’s a constantly foreboding, life-threatening setting where both guards and inmates cut deals. The godfather of inmates, a former boxer named Freddy (Michael K. Williams), asks Nasir in Episode 3, “Do you want my protection? Or do you prefer dead in the shower, with your brains bashed in, guts on the floor? It’s up to you.”

But protection comes with a price, of course.

Most of the episodes are directed by Steve Zaillian, who’s also credited as a co-creator with principal scriptwriter Richard Price. They collaborate on words and images that resonate and linger, whether it’s recurring glimpses of Nancy Grace ranting about the case on a barroom television or Stone being asked by his new courtroom partner Chandra (Amara Karan) how he knows so much about “all this drug stuff.” Matter-of-factly speaking, “I’m a lawyer,” he responds. Case closed.

Prejudices also are omnipresent in the city shaken to its core by 9/11. A young black woman cop clearly has nothing but contempt for Nasir after he’s pulled over for making an illegal left turn minutes after making a ghastly discovery. The defendant’s parents are caught in the vortex and increasingly ostracized. It’s enough to make the increasingly doubting Safar ask, “Did I raise an animal?”

Turturro’s singular performance rises above all else. He outwardly stumbles about, but inwardly gains traction whether looking for threads that might implicate someone else, trying various remedies for his unsightly feet or adopting a cat even though he’s allergic to same. It’s a slow cleansing process for a divorced, rumpled misfit who inwardly longs to be somebody.

The Night Of slowly gets around to targeting another key suspect. But after seven of its eight episodes, there’s really no telling where and how it will end for the accused, who just as easily could be guilty. The denouement won’t be until Sunday, August 28th, with HBO firm about keeping that episode under wraps until the appointed night and hour. It already seems like From Here to Eternity.


Email comments or questions to; unclebarky@verizon.net

USA's Queen of the South: hooked on drugs, filmed in Dallas


Alice Braga takes a star turn in Queen of the South. USA photo

Premiered: Currently airing on Thursdays at 9 p.m. (central) on USA network after June 23rd premiere
Starring: Alice Braga, Veronica Falcon, Justina Machada,Joaquim de Almeida, Jon-Michael Ecker, Peter Gadiot, Hemky Madera, Carlos Gomez, Mark Consuelos, Rafael Amaya
Produced by: David Friendly, Scott Rosenbaum, M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller

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Although otherwise completely disparate in content and tone, the classic movie Sunset Boulevard and USA network’s new Queen of the South open in markedly similar and risky fashion.

The Billy Wilder-directed 1950 film began with William Holden narrating his demise as the camera caught struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis floating face-down in a pool. Then came the flashback to how it all began.

Queen of the South, which is both set and shot largely in Dallas, began with Alice Braga’s Teresa Mendoza introducing herself as a high-heeled and very well-heeled drug kingpin before being shot presumably dead in her palatial mansion. “In this business, your shelf life is only so long,” she narrated before a flashback to her poor girl origins in Sinaloa, Mexico.

It can be dicey to kill off your lead character up-top and then expect an audience to play along with weekly prequels. But Queen of the South so far is clicking, with its first two episodes ranking high among Thursday’s top 100 cable attractions. The June 23rd premiere drew 1,389,000 viewers and had a .4 rating among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds. Episode 2 held steady with 1,352,000 viewers while upping it’s 18-to-49-year-old rating to .5.

Loosely adapted from the telenovela La Reina del Sur, the 13-episode Season One is in keeping with USA’s recent turn toward darker drama after going easier/breezier with the likes of Royal Pains, Psyche, Suits and White Collar.

In contrast, Queen of the South is much more in the mold of USA’s acclaimed Mr. Robot, which returns for Season Two on July 13th. Teresa constantly fears for her life after the drug-running love of her life, El Guero (Jon-Michael Ecker), is murdered for dealing against the rules. Her pursuer is Don Epifanio Vargas (Joaquim de Almedia), who’s built his empire on illegal highs and now plans to become governor of Sinaloa.

His strong-willed and bitter wife Dona Camila (Veronica Falcon), who wants nothing to do with politics, instead establishes herself in Dallas as a cutthroat drug empress with a stable of female “mules.” After various escapes -- all of them deftly filmed and staged -- Theresa eventually is caught and taken across the border to Dona Camila’s lair. But although brutal, it’s at least something of a safe haven from the vengeful Don Epifanio, whom Teresa had left for dead after one of her own brushes with death.

The Thursday, July 7th Episode 3 finds Teresa gaining Dona Camila’s confidence in both her trustworthiness and drug dealing savvy. There’s a well-played twist during this process -- plus a few glimpses of the Dallas skyline and some extended play of Jefferson Airplane’s best single, “White Rabbit.” (Episode 1 had a Spanish language version of The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.”)

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, Teresa is still trying to somehow extricate her best friend, Brenda (Justina Machado), who remains on the lam from the drug cartel.

The strongest performance in the early going is from Falcon, whose steely, wily Dona Camila clearly will be a role model for what Teresa someday becomes. This is going to take a while, though. And Queen of the South, based on the first three episodes, knows how to dawdle a little without ever slowing to a crawl. The action scenes are gripping, the language can be rough within the expanding confines of ad-supported basic cable and the glimpses of the flesh are fairly bold at times.

There are some lapses, though, including Episode 2’s unbelievably crazy/careening drive to Love Field by a Dona Camila underling who has Teresa in tow with a bellyful of fast-dissolving drug packets that must soon be expectorated. Cops can’t be expected to be everywhere, of course. But the entire Dallas PD must have been out to lunch for this one.

Through it all, Teresa manages to gain a little empathy even while on the winding road to someday running “the biggest drug empire in the Western Hemisphere.” All she asks is that you not judge her too harshly.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson assails boss Roger Ailes in sexual harassment lawsuit

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Former Miss America Gretchen Carlson, who anchored at Fort Worth-based KXAS-TV from 1999 to 2000 before joining CBS News, has filed a blistering sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News Channel chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who hired her in 2005 and fired her on June 23rd of this year.

She claims it was because she refused Ailes’ persistent sexual advances.

The suit, filed on July 6th in the Superior Court of New Jersey, alleges that Ailes “retaliated against Carlson in various ways, including by terminating her employment . . . and prior thereto, by, among other other things, ostracizing, marginalizing and shunning her after making clear to her that these ‘problems’ would not have existed, and could be solved, if she had a sexual relationship with him.”

Carlson, 50, who won the Miss America crown in 1989, contends in the lawsuit that she met with Ailes, 76, nine months before being terminated to “discuss the discriminatory treatment to which she objected.” The lawsuit quotes Ailes as telling her, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better. Sometimes problems are easier to solve that way.”

Ailes or his attorneys so far have not commented on the allegations. (Ailes later said that Carlson’s accusations are completely false. “This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract.” )

During her first seven-and-a-half years with Fox News Channel, Carlson co-hosted the morning Fox & Friends show. The lawsuit notes that in September 2009, she complained to a supervisor that co-host Steve Doocy “had created a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way, including by putting his hand on her and pulling down her arm to shush her during a live telecast.” (In another local connection, Doocy is a first cousin of longtime Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy.)

Steve Doocy, who is not being sued and remains on Fox & Friends, “engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment of Carlson,” the lawsuit says, “including, but not limited to, mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than a blond female prop.”

The suit charges that Ailes “responded by calling Carlson a ‘man hater’ and ‘killer’ and telling her that she needed to learn to ‘get along with the boys.’ “

“In further retaliation for her refusal to accede to sexual harassment,” Ailes fired Carlson from Fox & Friends in 2013 and reassigned her to a less visible 2 to 3 p.m. (ET) slot at lower pay, the suit contends.

The suit also cites a string of other allegedly sexist comments by Ailes, including “embarrassing Ms. Carlson by stating to others in her presence that he had ‘slept’ with three former Miss Americas but not with her.”

Carlson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, “including lost compensation, damage to career path, damage to reputation and pain and suffering damages.”

Fox News Channel’s top personality, Bill O’Reilly, hired by Ailes for the 1996 launch of the “Fair and Balanced” network, also was the target of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former FNC employee. But O’Reilly eventually settled out of court in 2004 before telling viewers, “On a personal note, this matter has caused enormous pain, but I had to protect my family and I did. Some of the media hammered me relentlessly because, as you know, I am a huge target, as is Fox News.”

The complete text of Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes can be found here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net