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Netflix's The Crown is gorgeous, but not especially gripping
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Saturday, November 16, 2019 – Page A20

TELEVISION It's not as though we have a shortage of information about the Royal Family. We already know that Meghan and Harry are not doing Christmas with the rest of the family. And that some elements of the British media believe their plan is "a snub to the Queen." Blah-blah.

The big polling firm YouGov reports regularly on how the British public is feeling about the Royals.

Recently, it delivered the news that Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, gets a 49-per-cent approval rating among the 9,000 adults surveyed, and Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, has an approval rating of 64 per cent. The meaning extrapolated by a Royal-obsessed media from these figures is that people admire Kate's "unflappable" nature.

The Crown (Season 3 streams on Netflix from Sunday, Nov. 17) is about the endlessly unflappable Queen, now played by Olivia Colman, and there's an issue with the quality of the drama now. Being unflappable doesn't make for terrific, gut-wrenching tension and twists. Thus, it's the minor and fringe characters who carry the series in the new episodes.

This season covers the period from 1964 to 1977, the latter date being the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

From the start, there is an emphasis on the inevitability of change.

The Queen is shown the new profiles of her that will be used on postage stamps and money. This plot device allows her to recognize that she's not the youthful woman she was when she ascended to the throne. She's not happy about it, and viewers will be reminded that we're not watching the luminous Claire Foy any more.

The peculiar thing about The Crown now is that it's neither upmarket soap opera nor precise historical drama. The pressing matter of a young queen settling into her daunting role has passed.

The family is also more at peace with the role imposed on it by tradition and societal need. What we've got now is a series of situations in which a traditional monarch must cope with both her private bewilderment at a Britain casting tradition aside in the 1960s and her management of her children's lives.

Colman is very good, but at the same time her embrace of a remote figure, talking in a clipped, tense tone, presents us with a person less enthrallingly complex.

It's those around her who will grip the viewer. Further, the handling of historical events becomes less interesting than the coming-of-age of a few royal characters. You might long for more soap and less history.

In particular, the portrayal of the situation caused by the arrival of Harold Wilson's Labour government is messy and rather trite.

It's made clear that some Royal Family members thought Labour was quasi-communist and were spooked by him. It's not clear enough, mind you, that Wilson (Jason Watkins) found the whole Royal thing tiresome and dangerous to democracy, a relic of the past worth forgetting.

The most gripping figure by far is Princess Margaret, now played by Helena Bonham Carter with a thrilling kind of zest. It's like performance art, this particular turn, with Bonham Carter relishing the idea of occupying the mannerisms and snobberies of the most doomed and most posh of all the doomed, posh young women of the era. The series springs to life when she is featured.

The role of Prince Philip has been taken over by Tobias Menzies, previously best known for his intricately complex work as two figures in Outlander. He makes Philip's neurotic self-absorption and melancholy almost relatable. The same cannot be said for Josh O'Connor's Prince Charles, who seems less a prince than a dour schoolboy, even when he's going into adulthood.

What becomes clear this season, based on what's available in advance, is how difficult it can be to make these people terribly interesting. They are, after all, rather ordinary figures who happen to exist inside gilded cages. Every penny of the massive fortune Netflix spends on The Crown is certainly on display, though, and it never looks less than gorgeous.

One suspects that the fourth season will have more gusto than this one, which never quite becomes the gut-wrenching drama it aims to be. It's very focused on an unflappable central figure.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Independent Lens: Made in Boise (Sunday, most PBS stations, 10:30 p.m.) is about an unusual industry booming in Boise, Idaho. In this pleasant place, which sees itself as "an all-American city," nurses, nail technicians and stayat-home mothers are choosing to become paid reproductive surrogates for people from around the world. The doc features four of them. As the existing child of one woman says, "My mom has babies for other people. It's pretty cool, but weird at the same time."

The Club (streams on Netflix from Friday) is a Mexican TV drama about a group of rich kids in Mexico City who make the mistake of creating their own ecstasy drug and figuring out how to sell it to their rich friends. This doesn't go over well with established drug cartels. It's an arch, lightweight thriller-drama with plenty of local flavour.

Associated Graphic

Olivia Colman takes over the role of the Queen in The Crown's latest season, which covers Elizabeth's life from 1964 to 1977.


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Take it from a TV critic: Day 1 of impeachment hearings had 'stay tuned' written all over it
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Thursday, November 14, 2019 – Page A9

It was good, gripping TV, dramatic at times, with occasional comic levity and some distinctive, memorable characters. That's what Democrats wanted from the first day of the televised impeachment hearings.

What they didn't get was a big bombshell "gotcha" revelation. But that could be coming. This was a slyly arranged first day and had "stay tuned" written all over it. Also, you automatically wonder who will play these memorable characters on Saturday Night Live in the weeks to come. It was that lip-smacking.

For a start, in entertainment value, there is the almost comic-book petulance in what Fox News puts on the screen. CNN and MSNBC simply identify Representative Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee chairman, as such. Fox News adds to its screen a number of boxes with talking points that might be taken straight from the White House. On-screen, Fox News says, "House GOP has supported censuring Schiff for actions during inquiry." Also, "On 9/26 Schiff publicly exaggerated substance of Trump-Zelensky call."

It would be hilariously spiteful spin if it weren't so obviously partisan.

As for how Fox News treated the two first witnesses - Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, the State Department deputy assistant secretary - an on-screen box appeared next to Mr. Taylor informing viewers of this: "President Trump dismissed Taylor as a 'never Trumper.' " Another box declared, "White House called Taylor's closed-door testimony 'triple hearsay.' " All of this while Mr. Taylor was outlining his long service in the military and government. You got the feeling Fox News wants you to know the President thinks this guy's crooked.

At the first recess, when pundits blathered, Fox News took the collective view that Donald Trump might have withheld designated aid to Ukraine, but he delivered it eventually - and before a deadline. CNN took the view that the aid was delivered within 48 hours of the White House getting wind of a whistle-blower talking about Mr. Trump leaning in on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

The one bombshell, such as it was, emerged from Mr. Taylor. He said that in the past few days he'd been made aware that a member of his team had witnessed a call between U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Mr. Trump, and heard Mr. Trump ask Mr. Sondland about "the investigations."

Further, "following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [the President's lawyer, Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for."

As any TV viewer knows from watching legal dramas, that's hearsay.

And as Republicans questioned the two diplomats, that is what they insisted: hearsay. Fox News took the same view, naturally. Dear heavens, moving to impeach a President based on hearsay is the work of numbskulls.

Thing is, Republican questioning of the witnesses, when it came, veered into the bizarre, rather than legally condemning. Republican counsel Steve Castor, all twitching and jerking movement, appears to have modelled his style on Saul Goodman, the sketchy lawyer on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. His tactic is to obfuscate wildly by mentioning a wide variety of names from the past decade of Ukrainian politics and insinuating that Mr.

Trump was wary of Ukraine because "Trump was concerned that Ukraine was out to get him."

The two diplomats, who seemed to come from central casting (Mr. Kent looks like he should be introducing Masterpiece Theatre on PBS on Sunday nights) gave him the studied, puzzled look of people used to dealing with obfuscating twerps.

Republican Representative Jim Jordan, a suit-jacket denier who always wears only a shirt and tie, models himself on the football coach in a Hollywood movie who has a few minutes in the locker room to rage and fume at the players.

His voice rising, he deplored the entire investigation, aimed scorn at the witnesses and ranted about the whistle-blower. He lamented, with theatrical despair, that Congress will never get a chance to question the one "who started it all" - to which Democrat Peter Welch replied, "I'd be glad to have the person who started it all to come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there." And brought the house down.

Well not "the House" in U.S. political terms, but anybody watching on TV.

Did the Democrats lay a finger on Mr. Trump in the matter of shaking down Ukraine for the favour of investigating the Bidens? Almost. They're getting there. Stay tuned. And bring on the Saturday Night Live version.

Associated Graphic

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, left, and State Department deputy assistant secretary George Kent are sworn in before testifying in the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday.

SAUL LOEB/REUTERS


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Disney+ launch is a mess, and its marquee show is a miss
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019 – Page A20

Disney+, the huge and muchanticipated streaming service, launched Tuesday in the U.S., Canada and, for some reason, the Netherlands.

It was a mess. A technical mess of malfunctioning log-in attempts and movies and series failing to load. For a lot of people, their introduction to Disney+ was looking for hours at a logo and an error icon. You would have more fun watching two flies mosey up and down the screen.

Disney released a statement: "The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our high expectations. We are working to quickly resolve the current user issue. We appreciate your patience."

Patience? Are you mad? This is an era when consumers expect instant access with a click. The sound of frustrated moaning across North America may only have been drowned out by the sound of cackling coming from Netflix execs.

It was odd to witness a mistake by the massive Walt Disney Co. It spent billions accruing the content and amassing a library of new and old movies. The service has almost 500 movies and 7,500 episodes of television from the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic libraries. If you wanted to stay home and watch what Disney likes to call "beloved stories," you might not leave the house until next summer.

After, that is, you get logged in.

Even odder is the fact that the marquee original series for Disney+, The Mandalorian, is a massive disappointment. The live-action spin-off from the Star Wars saga is hokey, hackneyed and about as sophisticated as a B-movie western from the 1930s. Nice visuals, for sure, if you're still easily impressed by CGI effects.

The adventures of the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal from Game of Thrones, although it could be anybody inside that tin can of an outfit) are set "after the fall of the Empire," which means it takes place after whatever it is that happened in Return of the Jedi. This Mandalorian fella is a bounty hunter, going about the galaxy finding varmints, for a fee.

He's a Clint Eastwood type, saying little and fast with the firearms.

How hokey like an old-timey western is it? Well, it starts with a bar fight, just like ancient western movies began with a scene in a saloon, an argument and the introduction of the hero gunslinger. The Mandalorian fella finds the guy he's looking for and announces, "I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold."

The varmint opts for warm, so there's a trip across what looks like the frozen north to a flying gizmo that will transport both of them away. A monster arises from beneath the ice, by the way, but pay it no mind. Our anti-hero deals with it the way a gunslinger dealt with a pesky rattlesnake.

Stuff happens, most in what looks like a mash-up of a medieval village and a town in the Old West, as imagined by Hollywood in 1923. Anti-hero fella takes an assignment to capture a person or critter out in the badlands of the galaxy. He accepts the assignment from a dubious guy (played by Werner Herzog, no less) who has a passel of stormtroopers protecting him. Off goes our antihero on his mission to the badlands.

There he is set upon by a couple of angry Blurrgs, those critters that look like a big fish perambulating around on two fat feet. He is saved by a local old-timer, the sort of wizened figure of the Old West that would have been played by Walter Brennan in a horse opera set in a place called Cactus Creek, or such. Anyway, oldtimer teaches Mandalorian to tame and ride a Blurrg and off they go, more or less yelling "yee-haw!" as they set off.

There follows a shootout at the varmints' encampment, the introduction of a chatty robot and more gun action and attempted banter than we have seen since The High Chaparral was on TV 50 years ago. All that's missing are the tumbleweeds.

There's a twist at the end, when the Mandalorian discovers what he's been paid to bring back to the dubious guy. There is an insertion of the cutes that would make your teeth ache.

If you're a Star Wars fanatic, it might pass the time. But as the marquee show for Disney+, it is shockingly juvenile, loaded with fastestgun-in-the-west clichés and very, very male. There's a lot to consume on Disney+, but this particular item on the menu is like a very badly cooked spaghetti western.


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The Trump impeachment hearings better be a small-screen blockbuster
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These proceedings will be sliced, diced and derided by Fox News and other Trump-supporting outlets - that's why sensational testimony is essential from the get-go
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019 – Page A13

TELEVISION I n the matter of the public impeachment hearings starting Wednesday and going live on TV, it is important to be prepared. Specifically, be prepared for a nothing-burger.

This assertion shouldn't startle anyone. Even the Democrats hoping to convince the American public that U.S. President Donald Trump and a gaggle of cronies pressured Ukraine to announce an investigation into former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden, in return for preauthorized military aid, know what's on the line. As CNN's Lauren Fox reported the other day, an anonymous senior Democrat told her, "The first hour of a hearing and the first hearing has got to be a blockbuster."

The possibility of a TV blockbuster turning into a nothingburger is very real. Televised hearings in Washington are nothing new. The TV theatre of it is familiar, but the TV dynamics have changed.

In 1973, the Senate Watergate hearings unfolded when there were three network TV channels, plus PBS, then in its infancy, and there were hundreds of newspapers with millions of readers.

The three U.S. networks rotated live coverage and PBS rebroadcast each day's complete proceedings in the evening for those unable to watch during the day.

Part of the attraction was the array of colourful figures in the Nixon administration that viewers had only read about.

Tens of millions watched the evening coverage on PBS, anchored by Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, who did almost no punditry or commentary and merely summarized what had happened and outlined who the players at the hearings were.

Sometimes they interviewed experts on the U.S. government's internal workings.

Yet the Watergate hearings were a monumental event in recent U.S. history. In part that was because, although it was live television, the story wrote itself.

Democrats who were alleging that Richard Nixon and his team had acted nefariously were careful to build a case, step by step.

The hearings opened with testimony from, and the questioning of, bit-players in the story, and moved up the chain of command to Nixon's inner circle. It was gripping TV because it played out as a slow-burning drama moving ever closer and closer to the Oval Office.

The setting and the story told contrasts sharply with today's U.S. political and media landscape. But it's not just about the gap in time. Even the most recent televised impeachment hearing, aimed at impeaching Bill Clinton, also took place in a vastly different atmosphere.

For a start, the Clinton saga started in January, 1994, with an independent counsel investigating financial irregularities in the dealings of the Whitewater property company and the involvement of the Clintons, and their business partners. In August of that year, the independent counsel was replaced by the more combative and conservative Kenneth Starr. At the time Starr started work, Monica Lewinsky was still in college. Also, at that time Paula Jones had only just filed a sexual harassment suit against Clinton based on his alleged actions in 1991.

It would be several years before what started as a land-development entanglement exploded into a sex scandal. But when it exploded, it certainly meant fireworks. Just before Christmas, 1997, lawyers for Jones subpoenaed Lewinsky, hoping to prove a pattern of behaviour by Clinton. In an affidavit, Lewinsky denied an affair with Clinton, hoping to avoid testifying. But her friend Linda Tripp had taped their phone conversations and offered the tapes to Starr. Within months, there was a full-blown sex scandal and the public was hearing about the secret tapes, oral sex in the Oval Office and the porn magazine Penthouse was in court arguing its right to publish nude photos of Jones. By the time that impeachment hearings were on live TV, there was enough sensational detail to guarantee an audience hungry for more.

The Clinton saga was like a lurid, high-stakes soap-opera. New and sensational developments came out of the blue. It was water-cooler conversation. It was about a guy denying having sex with "that woman." It was both lascivious content and relatable: the cheating husband and the intern, and all the lies woven around that.

What connects the Clinton impeachment hearings narrative to this week's event is the crucial role of the internet. In January, 1998, the little-known conservative news aggregation site Drudge Report carried a report claiming that Newsweek had sat on a story about president Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky.

That item kick-started a frenzy of coverage and it emboldened mainstream news outlets to cover the sex scandal. In The Washington Post, media columnist Howard Kurtz wondered whether "the furious pace of the coverage has all but shattered traditional media standards."

It did. The internet was in its infancy, but the Clinton scandal established the Drudge Report as an influential outlet. Just as, ironically, the very sober PBS had been made to seem essential by the Watergate scandal. The Fox News Channel was also in its infancy, established in 1996, but only available in about 10 million homes and most of those homes were not in the major east or west coast markets.

The big live TV event that begins on Wednesday has nothing like the context that framed the Watergate and Clinton hearings.

(The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and another senior diplomat, George Kent, will appear first. The hearings will resume Friday with the former U.S.

ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifying. All will be asked what they knew about Trump and Rudy Giuliani's dealings with Ukraine.) Fox News will play a significant role. It already has its own narrative: Trump's quid pro quo with Ukraine might have been mildly inappropriate, but it's not at the level of impeachment. For good measure, Fox also takes the view that nobody really cares about the Ukraine scandal. Fox News's Jesse Watters on Friday shouted: "No one can find Ukraine on a map!"

Each cable news outlet will construe the hearings in its own way, with its own biases and inclinations. Twitter will play a role, as it has since the start of the Trump presidency. Other social-media sites will undercut the relevancy of the live televised hearings with wild conspiracy theories floated and witnesses attacked. CNN's Jake Tapper has already been the subject of a bizarre Twitter smear campaign alleging that he's close friends with the lawyer representing the whistle-blower whose report brought the Ukraine scandal to light. Tapper says he's never met the lawyer, let alone been friendly with the man. Meanwhile, regular CNN pundit Max Boot called Fox's Sean Hannity the "de facto minister of propaganda" for the Trump administration in the matter of Ukraine.

It's a fevered atmosphere, with the further demonizing of Trump, ahead of next year's election, at the heart of it. The likelihood of an actual impeachment is remote. What those pushing for impeachment really want is to expose is Trump's quid-proquo as a shakedown and outright bribery, and typical of his behaviour. And they want it on live TV to be convincing. Career civil servants will testify. Perhaps they have shocking revelations, and perhaps the public will shrug. After all, these hearings will be sliced and diced and not so much analyzed as they will be derided by Fox News and other Trump-supporting outlets.

That's why blockbuster testimony is essential from the getgo. Those who wanted to feed on proof of Trump's nefariousness expected their fill from the Mueller report and Robert Mueller's testimony, and they got a nothing-burger. That TV drama amounted to dull content and anyone with high hopes for this one should remember that.

Associated Graphic

Members of the Senate Watergate Committee are seen during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington as they listen to witness Robert Odle, foreground, in May, 1973. The hearings were held when there were only three network TV channels and PBS. The major networks rotated live coverage, with PBS rebroadcasting the proceedings in the evenings for people who missed them.

PHOTOS BY ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Senate Watergate Committee listens as Lieutenant-General Vernon Walters testifies in August, 1973. Tens of millions of people watched PBS's evening coverage of the hearings, which were a monumental event in recent U.S. history.


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Starkly original, Back to Life is a masterpiece of melancholy
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The drama-mystery-comedy, which follows a woman re-entering the real world after an 18-year prison sentence, is one of the strongest series of this year
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Saturday, November 9, 2019 – Page A20

TELEVISION T he other day, yours truly read somewhere that Google has a "chief happiness officer," and that blogging about happiness is an inevitable online hit. You could say that happiness is a specifically American racket. Other countries and cultures give more meaning to, and cultivate, melancholy.

Back to Life (Sunday, Crave, 11 p.m.) is about melancholy and magnificently so. It's one of the strongest series of the year, and all the advance praise is justified. It is barely definable by genre-type, being comedy, drama and mystery. It's also about happiness and the necessity of being upbeat sometimes, no matter what bricks are thrown at you.

The person who is relentlessly upbeat is the central figure, Miri Matteson (Daisy Haggard). When we meet her, she's just been released from jail after serving 18 years for a crime that isn't revealed until several episodes have unfolded. But you are very aware that she didn't serve 18 years for a minor offence.

Miri goes from prison to living at home in the small, seaside town where she grew up and the crime occurred. She wants to live with her parents for a while, get a job and move on with her life.

She's very determined and optimistic about it, even when the words "psycho bitch" are spraypainted on the wall of her parents' home and someone throws a brick through a window at her when she actually lands a job.

What's odd about the series is the tone. It's very, very funny at times.

Her parents, Caroline (Geraldine James) and Oscar (Richard Durden), have changed while she was in prison and have secrets of their own.

They've developed habits and fixations to get through their own notoriety.

Miri, meanwhile, wants to be happy. Or a least have a day of pleasantness. She is unfazed by the animosity aimed at her. In fact, she is more discombobulated by how the world has changed.

The pop stars who feature on her bedroom wall - Prince, George Michael and David Bowie - are dead. Her Sony Walkman is an antique. She's not all that sure how the internet works - she's warned against Googling her own name - and is the only person in town who doesn't have a mobile phone.

While it can be hilarious - every supporting character is presented as well defined but eccentric - there is also gloom.

Miri is mostly polite and cheerful, but hardly anyone is willing to forgive or forget.

Also, there's a guy stalking her, a true-crime specialist who wants her to tell the true story of the incident that got her jailed. She cannot escape the crime. And when hilarity meets gloom, there sits melancholy.

From the producers of Fleabag and written by Haggard with Laura Solon, the six-episode series (to air on Sunday) is an absolute gem.

At times droll, farcical, whimsical, surreal, but always gentle, it doesn't have a single false note. It is part of a batch of unusually strong and genre-smashing content recently from Britain, most of it created by women.

Here, the conventions of the crime-drama category are upended.

Something terrible happened and Miri was deemed responsible. The truth is held back for a while, but what isn't hidden is the depth of the poignancy of her situation. The melancholy world it depicts, with humour, is heartbreaking.

It's a masterpiece and truly, starkly original.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Under Thin Ice (CBC, Nature of Things, streams on CBC Gem) is a stunningly beautiful documentary, a dive under the Arctic ice that is called a "hunting ground, haven and nursery." The filmmakers go to the massive floe of Nunavut's Tallurutiup Imanga (or Lancaster Sound), and move on the breaking ice floe, then go down and dive with belugas in the Arctic Ocean, before moving on to Disko Bay in Greenland, and examine a mammoth glacier that has sent thousands of icebergs into the sea.

Essentially, it's about the startling beauty of it all - it's filmed in 4K - as Canadian cinematographers and extreme divers Jill Heinerth and Mario Cyr take us under the ice, but also about Arctic creatures who are being forced to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

Associated Graphic

Daisy Haggard stars in Back to Life as Miri Matteson, who, after leaving prison, moves back to her parents' home in the seaside town where she grew up and where her crime was committed.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019
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The world of teens seethes with rage in these Netflix shows
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019 – Page A19

TELEVISION I t is an inescapable fact that Netflix has tried to corner the market in content about teenagers and coming-of-age stories aimed at a teen and millennial audience. Whether it was an algorithm or an executive's decision, the streaming service has devoted much of its original content production to stories about youth and in doing so, it has, as the U.S. edition of TV Guide said last year, "discovered an untapped storytelling gold mine."

From rom-coms to the satiric American Vandal, to the controversial 13 Reasons Why and the even more controversial Insatiable, it has meant a flood of series and movies about the adolescent experience. Many are excellent, prestige-TV entertainment. And while it might be a gold mine for Netflix in content creation and grabbing a young audience, the material is also a gold mine of information about the themes and motifs that captivate the intended audience.

Even a brief survey of three notable arrivals reveals something solid, if unsurprising.

Much of the material is about the dark vulnerabilities of youth. And, usually, it all starts with parental neglect or the impact of a parent's cruel actions. There is a deeply poignant level of damage and insecurity in the youths on these shows.

The End of the F***ing World (now streaming on Netflix Canada) is back for a second season. Made by Channel 4 in Britain, it got international attention and acclaim through Netflix, and that attention is what made a second series possible. Both seasons are small masterpieces of deadpan dark humour and, simultaneously, deeply shrewd.

In the first season - you can binge-watch both seasons of 30-minute episodes and be dazzled by its strange, unsettling whimsy - two 17-year-old teenage runaways Alyssa (Jessica Barden) and James (Alex Lawther) are on a crime-filled road trip across Britain.

James is convinced he's a psychopath and his hobby is killing animals. This part of his soul emerged after his mother died by suicide right in front of him. His initial impulse is to kill Alyssa, a young woman who says she is already "dead inside." That isn't true, but she is very damaged, probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In the second season we meet a new character Bonnie (Naomi Ackie), who is definitely capable of murder. Why? Well, her mother bullied her into academic excellence rather than care for her emotionally. Bonnie is mentally ill and when she realizes that Alyssa might be responsible for killing the man she loves - a monster of a man - she sets out for revenge. It's an astonishingly nihilistic series, gorgeously made, and for all its macabre humour, very moving.

Daybreak (recently arrived on Netflix) is satire, but while it is loaded with mocking humour, it, too, has great poignancy. Interestingly, almost the first thing the main character Josh (Colin Ford) says, is, "I wanna show you how sweet the end of the world actually is." In this case, most of California has been hit by some atomic apocalypse. Adults have tuned into zombies, or "ghoulies," as the show calls them. One very funny twist is that the ghoulies wander around repeating the last thought they had when the apocalypse struck. Thus there's a flesh-eating mom muttering, over and over, "10 per cent off the pants at Lululemon."

Meanwhile, the surviving adolescents have descended into a tribal world that reflects high school. There are the jocks, the nerds and the followers of the Kardashians.

Josh is a loner. He just wants to stay alive and find his girlfriend from before the mayhem.

He's adept and skillful at staying alive. And, interestingly, he'd just moved to California from Toronto. When he explains to a gang of violent jocks what skills he has, one asks, "Who are you, McGyver?" Josh says, "No, I'm Canadian." In flashback scenes to his premayhem life, we see Josh explain to his girlfriend that his mom worked from morning to night, he rarely saw her and she parented by leaving him Post-it notes. The upshot of this scathingly funny satire is that most teenagers are vicious animals, but the adults are even worse because they are uncaring about their kids and created the mess that is this disordered, terrible world.

Atypical (back for a third season on Netflix) is the least gloomy and most compassionate of the batch. The central character is Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old who is on the autism spectrum. Now he's just gone from high school to college and is finding out how superficial his new friends are, among other revelations. But the show has subtly shifted focus to his parents. His mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is wonderful here) and dad (Michael Rapaport) are trying to figure out how to stay married now that Sam no longer needs their fullest attention.

It's a very, very delicate balance. While the drama has compassion for them, it is clear that it's the teenagers who have the more humane and luminous sense of what is right and what is morally wrong.

As a batch of shows, the three present a strange, often terrifying and sometimes touching picture of youth. Such grim vulnerabilities abound and such anger at older generations seethes. It's not so much a gold mine as it is a glimpse of hellish rage.


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Dumb simplicity: Why The Masked Singer is a massive TV sensation
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Tuesday, November 5, 2019 – Page A14

TELEVISION

They scoffed. Oh, how they scoffed.

When The Masked Singer arrived on the Fox network at the beginning of this year, the reviews were scathing. One called it, "A prohibitive favourite for worst new TV show of the year."

Another concluded, "Whether it's a reaction to the curated snobbery of prestige television or simply a new low in reality programming and its worship of B-list talent, The Masked Singer kicks off 2019 with such low expectations that everything else - CSI reruns, pharmaceutical ads - looks like sophisticated high art in its wake." And that's only excerpting from two reviews.

Right, well. A few weeks later, The Masked Singer (now in Canada on CTV, Wednesdays) was the week's No. 1, nonsports broadcast in the United States, and not for the first time. When the first batch of episodes ended in February, the trade magazine AdWeek was declaring that the show "proves that big hits on the broadcast networks still exist." Take that, HBO.

Based on a conceit that's been a huge hit in South Korea, the show has a panel of judges try to guess the identities of celebrities who sing and dance while hidden behind elaborately garish costumes. The celebs perform while a studio audience dances, whoops and hollers. There's a host who keeps on proclaiming that you are watching "the wildest show on TV."

You're not, actually. That would be Laura Ingraham insulting people on Fox News. What you are watching is just dumb, chintzy spectacle. Also, something that's rather wholesome. In a crudely despotic culture exacerbated by everything from the debasement of political discourse to outright bullying on reality TV series, The Masked Singer is singularly benign. It's only wild in its schlocky spectacle, not in its intent. It's actually as amiable as all getout.

Sure, there's a cheese factor in the judges and host. Host Nick Cannon is a C-list celeb and as inarticulate as a three-year-old.

The panelists are comedian Ken Jeong, actor/model and famous antivaxxer Jenny McCarthy, singer/dancer/ actor Nicole Scherzinger and singer/producer Robin Thicke. Only in the strange land of low-grade American pop culture are these figures interesting people.

Some of them would attend and judge the opening of a car door, for a small fee.

The celebs inside the costumes - think sports mascots from hell - during the first season were eventually revealed, and included singers Donny Osmond, Gladys Knight and La Toya Jackson, plus comedian Margaret Cho, actor Tori Spelling and broadcaster and former NFL player Terry Bradshaw.

Now, on one level, you could feel contempt for these performers. Are they so desperate for attention they'd engage in this strange, tawdry enterprise?

Yet it matters not. It's just wacky and borders on the surreal, given the outlandish costumes and the hints that are given about the identity of the celeb in the costume. Nobody gets hurt, and it all unfolds like a particularly insane version of Charades.

It says something about the U.S. culture that there has been a shift from American Idol, a singing show that made stars of unknowns, to this, a show in which sort-offamous people hide their identity and sing. "And that something" it says about the culture is not necessarily sinister or dispiriting.

One early review was just one sentence: "The Masked Singer is a deeply stupid enterprise." But "deeply stupid" doesn't really apply here.

It's actually rather shrewd to upend the competitive vulgarity of reality TV and present something that's just a guessing game about who is hiding behind the crazy costume.

Such is the strong appeal of The Masked Singer that Fox was inundated with complaints when the show was put on hiatus to air World Series baseball.

Fans were meant to be mollified by promises from the producers that the show would return and sizzle: "There is a love affair that develops between Nicole and Thingamajig. There are tears that unfold and this person's voice absolutely mesmerizes Nicole."

Indeed that Thingamajig is mesmerizing, but who is it?

Dumb simplicity is why the show is a big hit.

It's anchored in curiosity about who is hiding in the costumes and curiosity is the most enduring of human sensations. They can scoff, but it's true.


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Epic fantasy His Dark Materials is lavish, but for kids, not adults
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Monday, November 4, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION The appeal of fantasy material depends entirely on your tolerance for certain quirks in the storytelling. There are adults who, for instance, cannot abide talking animals.

Even with the most open of minds, they cannot tolerate that leap on to the fantastical.

Such people should stay the heck clear of His Dark Materials (starts Monday, Crave/HBO, 9 p.m.), because it teems with animal companions to the main characters and these critters continually offer sage advice. But that's not the half of it, in this lavish and highly ambitious series.

Based on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy of novels, which are hugely popular, apparently, the series strives hard to match the pseudo-lofty themes of Pullman's books. Those themes touch on education as a bulwark against authoritarianism and touch on the idea that fate guides us, not our own aspirations and desires. On the evidence of the first batch of episodes, the adaptation is less than successful in conveying Pullman's motives and arguments, but it sure is charming. It has a captivating, brave and smart young girl at its centre, for a start.

Yet, here's the thing - you'd be hardpressed to figure out if it's intended for adults at all.

The series has for some time been anticipated as the next Game of Thrones. That is, a fantasy series to grip a vast audience and take that audience into a spectacular world, and be awed by it. His Dark Materials is no such thing. It's as far from GoT as you can get. It's neither adult enough nor is it truly adolescent in its thematic heft.

It's a charming children's story elevated to a level of poignancy some adults will find hard to resist, but others certainly won't.

Set in a world that's like ours but different, the story, in shape and form, is very British. It opens with this chap named Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) delivering a baby to Oxford University in the midst of a flood. He's got a snow leopard at his side. Everyone in this world has a soul that is manifested in an animal companion. These are called daemons.

And in this world, a totalitarian church called The Magisterium controls everything.

(There is a real "magisterium" in the Catholic Church, which is tasked with interpretation of the word of God.) Freedom of thought is limited and anything that goes against Magisterium belief is heresy.

Extrapolate your own meaning from this.

Anyway, Lord Asriel is combatting rigid thought and belief. This he does mainly by exploring the snowy, ice-covered north. In a way, Pullman is bringing the legends of British explorers such as Shackleton and John Franklin into the mash-up.

The baby he delivers to Oxford - the centre of the universe - will have some say in how this world will change. She is Lyra (Dafne Keen), who essentially carries the series. Lyra grows up an orphan at Jordan College, Oxford, but is destined for great things. This we know for sure because people keep saying it.

All of this unfolds with a rather earnest tone and pacing until about 40 minutes into the first episode. That's when Ruth Wilson comes striding into it, almost licking her lips with relish. She's playing Mrs.

Coulter, who is a villain but a bewitching one. It's a relief when she turns up because everything that has gone before was reaching a level of silliness that only a kid could find compelling.

Kids are central to the story, elaborate though the construction of that story might be. Kids are going missing, you see.

Lyra's pal Roger has suddenly disappeared. We also encounter a group of serflike people called Gyptians, who live on canals, are nomads and have begun to notice that their kids sometimes flee or are abducted. There's something vaguely patronizing about how the Gyptians are presented: Good-hearted working folk, but none too clever.

Before long - a few episodes in - we meet an armoured, talking polar bear called Iorek Byrnison, who has a drinking problem, and a Texan cowpoke-outlaw fella who goes around in a hot-air balloon and is played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in a style that is just shy of camp.

Have you got the picture yet? Yes, it's confusing if you're not familiar with the books, but there is one crucial thing about His Dark Materials that is truly perplexing: It is unclear if the intended audience is children or adults. One can imagine kids and teens liking it a lot, in the same way that the Harry Potter books and movies had a special impact for them. Here, on HBO (it's a BBC/HBO co-production), the production is just baffling. Charm can only take a fantasy series so far, and for adults there might be the temptation to put childish things away. The animals keep talking, for a start.


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The Morning Show is a fascinating but flawed soap opera
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Flagship drama for Apple TV+ confronts female empowerment, sexual harassment but without any real urgency
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Saturday, November 2, 2019 – Page A18

TELEVISION J ennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon were on CBS This Morning the other day talking to host Gayle King about The Morning Show, the flagship drama for the new Apple TV+ platform that launched on Friday.

The conversation had an odd self-referential, meta-quality, given that the new series is about a morning TV show and it was happening on morning TV with a female host, and The Morning Show's core plot is about a female host. Or two female hosts, actually. In the interview, King, Aniston and Witherspoon talked about the new drama as though it were an urgent social document.

Well, it isn't. The Morning Show is fascinating but flawed, a highend soap opera about the internal machinations of television, female empowerment and the effect of the #MeToo movement. It is well crafted, if plodding at times, and while it's entertaining, it has no urgency to it.

The best of TV drama in the current period has a curious kind of cultural power. It's about a time and place, about the ideology of that time and place and it offers scrutiny of personal life in the context of that ideology. Essentially, a lot of great TV drama is about identity crisis. From the gravity of Mad Men to the unhinged personal violence in the prestige-popcorn Killing Eve, the issue of identity is crucial. Another important point about the best of recent TV is that few great series were driven by star power.

The Morning Show has three major stars in Aniston, Witherspoon and Steve Carell, who play the central characters. It touches on identity, and attempts psychological and social relevancy, but in the most superficial manner.

It's entertainment, not art.

It opens with gusto. Alex (Aniston), co-anchor of a major network morning show, is on her way to work very early in the morning. She looks tired and is irritated by numerous calls from the show's executive producer, Charlie (Chip) Black (Mark Duplass). She ignores the calls. Then Chip is standing right there when her car arrives at the studio. He tells her that her co-host Mitch (Carell), her on-air partner for years, has been under investigation for sexual misconduct, The New York Times just reported this fact and Mitch is out. It's crisis time. What ensues for ages is very much focused on Aniston as Alex.

The series makes a near-fetish of her face and lingers long on the solitary quality of her existence as someone who must arise at 3 a.m. and go to work looking polished, calm and cheerful. There's something unnerving about this near-fetish because it's linked to Aniston's public persona, not the character.

There is also an exasperating obviousness to the introduction of Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), a TV reporter at a small station who becomes instantly famous when footage of her, yelling at a protester outside a coal mine, goes viral. So many people tell Bradley that she's pushy, difficult and brash. The character is so sassy that she practically has a sign saying "Sassy" around her neck.

Witherspoon can do this type of role with aplomb. It's her trademark. And Aniston can do the suffering-woman routine in her sleep. As a viewer, you do feel you're watching something very calculated here, and originality is absent.

Carell brings considerable verve to the role of Mitch. He's playing the alleged sexual predator, but you're pleased when he turns up. His rage is physical and at times electrifying. He claims all his escapades were consensual and there's a great moment near the end of the first episode where Mitch roars, "This is all Weinstein's fault!"

In the three episodes that have arrived (the rest will appear weekly on Apple TV+) there's much melodrama, scenes of sentimentality and some speechifying. It's not great TV, but good TV.

So far, it only touches lightly on sexual harassment and emphasizes the necessary empowerment of the Alex and Bradley characters with a heavy hand.

There is a twist at the end of each episode and, well, that's certainly entertaining. But if Apple set out to make a huge impression with its flagship series, it sort of succeeded. It's making old-fashioned TV with a high-gloss sheen, not art or anything urgent.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND A new season of the wonderful Atypical streams on Netflix. The show's central character Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old who is on the autism spectrum, is now beginning life as a college student. The series will have Sara Gilbert and Eric McCormack as university professors. Inside China's Digital Gulag (Saturday, Sunday, 10 p.m. CBC NN on The Passionate Eye) is a British doc that goes undercover inside to highlight China's incarceration of an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims in detention camps without trial. And, specifically, it looks at the extensive surveillance used by the government there, monitoring every aspect of life.

The first episode of The Morning Show begins with gusto as Alex (Jennifer Aniston) learns her co-host Mitch (Steve Carell) is under investigation for sexual misconduct.


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Pure: A scary drama about a malfunctioning mind obsessed with sex
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Thursday, October 31, 2019 – Page A17

TELEVISION

There's a plethora of Halloween-linked programming.It's been going on for days.

On Thursday, such network shows as Superstore and Grey's Anatomy will have Halloweenthemed episodes with frights, ghouls, skeletons and such. If you really want creepy chills, though, you can watch Fox News spread strange conspiracy theories.

But the most frightening thing you can possibly encounter is a seriously malfunctioning mind.

That's the mind of Marnie (Charly Clive), whom we meet at the beginning of her story when she's merely waiting for a bus somewhere in Scotland. She's taking the bus all the way to London, to escape.

What she's escaping is laid out in Pure (streaming on CBC Gem), one of the darkest, strangest series to emerge from Britain or any other country in recent years. She can't actually escape, mind you, because what scares her stays in her head.

Marnie suffers from a very distinct type of obsessive compulsive disorder. Oh, it's a very specific form of OCD. She doesn't arrange things obsessively or hoard, or wash obsessively. She thinks about sex, and specifically she sees sex unfolding all around her in sudden flashes of disturbing images. It's called Pure O, and it has made Marnie's life a living, embarrassing-to-her, hell.

"Nobody wants a pervert for a daughter," she says after fleeing her mystified family. And she's deeply worried that she is, in fact, a pervert. There's nothing pervy about the series, though. Marnie's story isn't entirely fiction.

The basis is the very real Rose Cartwright who wrote memoirs about living with the condition.

Cartwright has written that, "Aged five, I'd climb the walls, terrified the Bosnian conflict would come for my family." Then in her teens, she began to have disturbing images of sex intrude into her mind daily. And Marnie's journey in the series is treated as a very dark comedy, a journey with many bumps and twists, but always about a chilling mental condition.

Clive - this is her first TV role after a short career in theatre and stand-up comedy - is beguiling as Marnie, all vulnerability and worry masked by desperate good cheer. The comedy is there, for sure, especially in an early sequence when Marnie, after a suggestion by doctor that she's gay and repressing it, goes to a lesbian bar to see if she can find out something about herself.

If you come to Pure for the nudity and brief but bizarre sex scenes - there's one stunning scene of an imagined orgy in a subway car that's more bacchanal-from-hell than erotic - you are very unlikely to be turned on.

There is plenty of wit in Marnie's inner monologue about her life and what she sees. But the only thing being exploited is the wryness of her self-awareness. The series also manages to drill deep into the matter of mental health and the difficulty of finding help and understanding. She has a psychological disorder that disturbs her, but she cannot name it and others are ignorant about her state. She's incredibly alone.

What she needs is a diagnosis.

She keeps wondering to herself what can be wrong with her, telling herself, "It's like a sixth sense, except I don't see dead people, I see naked people."

Along the way to understanding, Marnie has adventures that are treated as comedy - she tries to laugh at herself. Yet for all its absurdity, Pure is very dark. Not the conventional recommendation for Halloween, but entrancing in a cockeyed way. And an education about a horrifically difficult mental state that's terrifying in a manner that can't be matched by anything else airing right now.


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SNL now sliding into misfiring irrelevancy
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Wednesday, October 30, 2019 – Page A18

TELEVISION Like many players in the comedy arena, Saturday Night Live benefited a lot from the first two years of the Trump presidency. From the first moment SNL introduced Melissa McCarthy playing a deranged, but uncannily accurate Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, the show was mustsee TV. It took on the challenge of depicting the unglued quality of the Trump administration with gusto and was often on target.

Now, not so much. After recently being away, I returned to find a batch of recent SNLs in my PVR and duly watched them.

Taken together, the recent episodes amount to much less than what was just a while ago: sizzling, inspired satire. It is misfires galore now.

Part of the problem is Trump-fatigue. As U.S. President Donald Trump himself and his team engage in a frenzy of bonkers behaviour against perceived enemies, the centre of SNL's satiric take cannot hold.

The best of times for such comedy becomes the worst of times.

Last Saturday's cold opening, which featured the return of Alec Baldwin as Trump, went completely awry. Baldwin does Trump as a pouting, befuddled but malicious president, and in this sketch, the point seemed to be the mockery of Trump supporters at a rally. Character after character appeared beside the President to offer ever more demented reasons for adoring him. The Trump character was the sane one for some reason.

As the impeachment effort heightens tension and emboldens the President into even more vituperative antics, the sketch bore no connection to anything real or imagined in the current reality. Baldwin has said he's tired of the impersonation and it shows. The only highlight was Fred Armisen appearing briefly as an especially sinister Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But it's not just the political humour that's gone stale. Sketches meant to tease out absurd humour and mock stereotypes often land with a dull thud. One recent week, Fleabag star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who had just won a passel of Emmys, was the host. After a charming, self-deprecating monologue, she was mostly misused and miscast in the episode's sketches.

A What's Wrong with This Picture game show sketch featured Waller-Bridge as a particularly dumb contestant, and then a ham-fisted sketch satirizing the British version of Love Island also depicted her as a stupid person.

This is a recurring theme on SNL, now in its 45th year - derision for everybody who isn't in on the SNL style of humour. There's a raging condescension in much of what it does. Possibly this angrily supercilious tone is linked to the Trumpfatigue that now hangs over the show.

There's some kind of rage or frustration that there are dummies out there who still support the President.

Even when the sketches aim for a surreal, mind-bending originality, rather than a standard-issue send-up of a TV show or celebrity, they often turn out pointlessly long and unfunnily obscure. Last Saturday had Chance the Rapper as host and he was used in a lot of sketches.

He was excellent as a basketball reporter forced to report on, with great resentment, an e-sports beat tournament. He wasn't as sharp in a sketch mimicking a courtroom TV show, called First Impressions Court. He couldn't keep a straight face and the entire piece was stolen by surprise guest Jason Momoa, who simply took off his shirt to have an impact.

Later, Chance and Cecily Strong played a couple meeting and falling in love at a restaurant. They literally sweep each other off their feet. It was all very stoner-humour and the crazily used wire effect, lifting up the two characters, was meant to say something about being high. But maybe you had to be stoned to see the point.

Weekend Update, often the highlight of a so-so episode, also seems to be falling flat too often. Colin Jost and Michael Che carry an air of exhaustion, and it's only a few episodes into this season. Che mocked Rudy Giuliani with the line, "Somehow, Giuliani went from the Mayor of 9/11 to the 9/11 of mayors." Alex Moffat and Mikey Day played Eric and Donald Trump Jr., a routine that is genuinely exhausted now.

Kate McKinnon, who has achieved godlike status for her portrayals of Hillary Clinton, Kellyanne Conway and Jeff Sessions, is currently doing a terrible Giuliani and a good Elizabeth Warren. But Warren hasn't really emerged yet as a distinctive figure, so the imitations seem like a lot of effort for little payback. It's another misfire.

Saturday Night Live has a formidable status in American popular culture. Right now, it isn't deserving of it. It's adrift, uncertain in tone and self-indulgent. Maybe it is as frustrating to create and perform these days as it is to watch. But, there's always next week.


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Grow up - juvenile language has no place in politics
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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

Watching coverage of Donald Trump's announcement that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had died as a result of a U.S. raid in northern Syria was an eye-opener. And an awful reminder.

He kept talking, then took questions and talked some more. Soon after his official statement, he was riffing on how exactly al-Baghdadi had died: "Whimpering and crying and screaming all the way."

Further, "He was a gutless animal," "he died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying" and "he died like a dog."

It was both juvenile and barbaric. And this taunting rhetoric is aimed at a bloodthirsty terrorist organization that is still active. It is meant to humiliate and will possibly impel a reaction. It is madness to use such language that could obligate revenge.

As we all know, fact-checking Trump's speeches and statements is an industry unto itself. Vast acres of newsprint and even larger areas online are devoted to telling readers how he has lied, exaggerated or mischaracterized.

It hasn't made a whit of difference. So much that was weird or unimaginable before Trump is now normalized. Almost daily he continues to lie and exaggerate.

You can't turn on the TV and not be aware of it. What isn't given scrutiny is his actual language. That language is loaded to the point of barbarism and is responsible for the descent into political partisanship that is, at this point, barbaric itself.

Thing is, while facts are checked, the inflammatory language of Trump is rarely challenged. There's a school of punditry that talks about "civility," but that term is irrelevant now. It's about language. Factchecking is easy compared with effective denunciation of words, phrases and vocabulary.

Putting a stop to ugly and dangerous phraseology is damn hard and especially hard for TV and online media because both feed off extreme language.

Yet the rhetoric and derisive language the U.S. President used on the weekend slides by. There seems to be general confusion now about what are remarkable or outlandish statements that should be queried and confronted. Last week on CNN, Wolf Blitzer challenged Beto O'Rourke on referring to Trump as a "Russian asset" and O'Rourke drawing parallels between the Trump presidency and Nazi Germany.

Blitzer asked, "Is that not going too far, to make a comparison between the President of the United States and the Nazis?" O'Rourke called his phrasing "the comparison of last resort" and says he stood by it.

A peculiar, infuriating unwritten set of rules seems to exist currently. The person who talks about Hitler or the Third Reich is challenged automatically. Everything else generates an eye-roll or merits a joke on the late-night talk show monologues.

Language has consequence and we - all of us, not just all-news TV pundits, reporters, anchors - seem befuddled on the matter. O'Rourke believes he understands the connection between language and action.

He blamed the Aug. 3, mass shooting that targeted Latino immigrants in his hometown of El Paso on the anti-immigrant message in Trump's rhetoric. But he's called out when he says this: "This idea from Goebbels and Hitler that the bigger the lie and the more often you repeat it, the more likely people are to believe it, that is Donald Trump to a T." According to Blitzer, "Most people would say that is unacceptable."

In Canada, we are far from immune to this deadly confusion about language.

Three days after the federal election, the campaign office of Liberal MP Catherine McKenna was defaced with a vulgar fourletter slur painted in large red letters. TV cameras didn't actually show the slur, but we all knew what it was and how profoundly demeaning it was.

McKenna has rightly been vocal about the kind of abuse directed at her online and in person. As Environment Minister, she was viciously attacked on a continuing basis. A particular element of the abuse has its origins in Conservative MP Gerry Ritz referring to her as "climate Barbie" on social media in 2017.

He later apologized and deleted his remark. But the slur stuck. That's how it works with barbaric, hateful language. It's said, then withdrawn after negative reaction but it has been given room to breathe and grow. Notably, Andrew Scheer wasn't quite as quick as Ritz to apologize. Ritz acted 30 minutes after McKenna cited the language as unacceptable, and Scheer acted the next day.

There is no easy way to curb the creeping ascent of barbaric language to the common vernacular in politics and cultural debate, and the right-wing populists don't have a monopoly on this matter. The left and progressives can be as arcane and divisive in their language debates as the right is sinister.

A good start would be TV anchors and interviewers halting abhorrent language by shutting it down when it is uttered.

Maybe simply by saying, "that's juvenile" or "that's barbaric" and cutting off the speaker.


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Mrs. Fletcher is an HBO sizzler
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Heartfelt satire about a mom, her jock son and porn addiction is bolstered by Hahn's devoted performance
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Saturday, October 26, 2019 – Page A20

TELEVISION In a recent interview with National Public Radio in the United States, the actor Kathryn Hahn told an anecdote about her early acting career.

"In my last semester at Yale, I would take the train in to 30 Rock.

[30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, home of NBC Studios.] There was a Banana Republic at the base of 30 Rock. I would go into the Banana Republic. I would buy a suit, go up, audition for a pilot, go down, return the suit at Banana Republic, and promptly get on the train and never get the gigs."

These days it's a well-worn cliché to assert that this era of prestige TV on cable and streaming has been a godsend to female actors. The arena is full of anti-heroines and Hahn's career has soared with roles on such series as Transparent and Happyish. Now she's pretty much carrying an entire new HBO series.

In Mrs. Fletcher (Sunday, Crave/ HBO 10:30 p.m. ET), Hahn is the title character in a deliciously nimble, but still heartfelt satire that's really about motherhood, porn, sex and the life of a single fortysomething woman. There's a lot going on, but you are never less than awed by Hahn's full-bore embracing of the role.

She plays Eve Fletcher, who is divorced and has devoted most of the past decade to taking care of her son Brendan (Jackson White).

She's a great mom, supportive and caring without being smothering. She has measured out her days doing what matters for her son. She knows he's no genius and senses that he's a bit arrogant, coarse and probably ignorant of his own privilege. When Brendan goes away to college, she's an empty-nester, alone and looking forward to allowing her intellect to expand. She's got a good job as an administrator at a seniors' retirement home, but she wants to do something more rewarding for herself than simply taking care of others.

She is, in fact, bored. What happens is that a whimsical remark by a friend leads her to discover that there's an entire genre of online porn devoted to idolizing women of her age. She becomes a tad obsessed with the porn - a fair amount of clips are shown - and with masturbating. She is a bit lost and the porn is helping her figure out a path forward.

Meanwhile, in what is an unsubtle, but very funny and crisply ironic twist, Brendan is as lost as his mother. A popular jock in high school who found it easy to seduce young women, in college he's completely out of his depth.

He's unaware of issues about consent and seduction. Most of the other students, even the jocks, are more socially and culturally sensitive than he is. In one priceless scene, he finally connects with the lacrosse players he imagines are just like him. They're talking about climate change and what to do about it, actually. When Brendan mentions he saw a cool video of a guy surfing during a tsunami, they look at him as a clueless jerk.

As you might guess already, there are many clever juxtapositions going on in the series. (It's seven 30-minute episodes and based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, although six episodes are adapted and directed by women.)

Some are understated - Eve's job at the seniors' home involves dealing with the lack of decorum about sex that mild dementia brings on. Other ironic correlations are more brash - in a writing class that Eve takes, the young man she finds attractive and sweet was the victim of her son's bullying in high school.

Yet for all its satiric wallops, Mrs. Fletcher is deeply humane and for all the shock value in some scenes, it's a thoughtful character study that's gentle rather than acidic. The viewer comes to understand the insensitive blockhead that is Brendan as his life comes apart at the seams and his mom's life becomes resolved.

Throughout, you are completely captivated by Hahn's courage and skill. The entirety of this sizzling, perplexing series is on her shoulders.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Living Colour, one of the strongest recent episodes of The Nature of Things arrives on CBC Gem. An enchanting and visually sumptuous examination of the science of colour - the light, the sky, how the brain interprets visual things - it looks at how humans and animals absorb, observe and use colour in different ways. The second season of the wonderfully wry The Kominsky Method (streaming on Netflix) arrives, too. Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin are back as the older guys in the entertainment business in Los Angeles, who talk, wisecrack and have odd adventures and misadventures in plotlines that have absolutely zero youth-appeal, something the series revels in presenting.


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The Unicorn makes for fine, unforced comedy on old-fashioned TV
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Thursday, October 24, 2019 – Page A20

TELEVISION

Mainstream TV keeps chugging along. You can have your high-concept, premium-cable and movie-star-filled streaming shows.

But loads of people want to see a comedy or a police procedural on old-fashioned TV. There's still gas in that tank.

At the plush offices in Los Angeles where such decisions are made, some honchos recently took a break from denying that gender-pay issues and sexual harassment exist to renew some newly launched shows.

This is an interesting point in the TV season. Ratings and reviews tell the honchos what people are watching and liking. It also tells us about the cultural currents that are flowing.

CBS is adding new episodes and giving full-season endorsements to a whole bunch of shows. Among them are Evil (Thursday, CBS and Global, 10 p.m.), which is a fascinating trip into religion-versus-science via a procedural format. It has a 13-episode run and will be back again next year. Also getting the backing of more episodes are All Rise, Carol's Second Act, The Unicorn and Bob Hearts Abishola.

Most of these are best described as comfort shows with repetitive plots and mildly appealing characters.

By far the best of the bunch is The Unicorn (Thursday, CBS and Global, 8:30 p.m.). It looks on the surface like a generic comedy, but it has a certain unique kind of wit and warmth without ever being saccharine or dumb.

I've been enjoying it. And I know much of its charm resides in the cast, especially the lead figure.

That's Walton Goggins, who plays Wade, a dad to two girls. His wife died a year ago and he's been ultraoccupied raising the girls, trying to make a living as a contractor and trying to keep his little household happy and fed. Wade's not in denial. He's just busy. So busy, in fact, that he and the kids have been living off the food given to him when his wife died. As the series opens - you can watch the early episodes on Global's website in Canada - he's down to the last frozen lasagne in the freezer. One of his friends refers to the house as, "The Disney Channel version of Grey Gardens."

His pals tell him that running out of the frozen food is a sign. He's got to get out there, have a life and, maybe, meet some new lady friends. Reluctant, rattled by the fervour of their interest, Wade finally goes along with their plan. He soon discovers that a lot of women are interested in a widower. He is, as one neighbour suggests, "The Unicorn, the elusive thing that every single woman is looking for."

It all goes awry, mostly. This is good to see, as a sitcom about a widower/dad dating again has its limitations. Wade expands as a character and is allowed to be angry, grief-stricken, doltish, a devoted dad and just a man carrying a burden.

Goggins is superb. He's a formidable actor. In The Shield and in Justified, two of the best drama series of the past 20 years, he played strung-out, dangerous men and was utterly plausible as figures that could explode in deranged anger and do terrible things to other people. As a sitcom dad, he brings an acting range that's rare on a family-friendly CBS series. There's real depth to Wade and one can only assume Goggins was interested in the role because it's grounded, and Wade is a man who is neither fool nor straight man for both the mockery and the sympathy that's aimed at him.

The supporting cast - Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Omar Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson - is also excellent. Watkins, who was superb in Amazon Prime Video's Transparent and Hulu's Casual, is especially strong as a woman who wants to nourish Wade, but not too much. Everyone involved grasps the deadpan nature of the comedy and relishes the sharp wit, a kind of subdued drollery that's uncommon in network sitcoms.

It's not going to blow your mind, this sitcom. But it will remind you that it's possible to see a clever comedy about middle age, dating and parenting that never insults your intelligence. In a way, the down-to-Earth, emotional-but-funny quality to The Unicorn is the antiThis Is Us. It has depth and wit and stands as a feel-good show about families and people who make missteps and have regrets. As for cultural currents, it's a new kind of nuanced look at a middle-aged man, one who isn't a brooding anti-hero or a complete fool, but recognizably baffled and authentic.


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While Canada moves forward, CBC TV goes backward
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Wednesday, October 23, 2019 – Page A18

TELEVISION

A s sure as the sun came up on the day after the federal election, there were huge sighs of relief at CBC HQ. After all, it would have been super awkward to find Andrew Scheer was prime minister, given that CBC entered into a hissy-fit lawsuit against the Conservative Party during the election campaign. For using the broadcaster's footage in an online advertisement.

Who does that? Well, CBC management does, throwing caution and common sense to the wind and, worse, adding the names of two prominent political reporters - Rosemary Barton and John Paul Tasker - to the lawsuit. For a while there, Barton, who is easily CBC's best anchor and interviewer, was presented with the appalling vista of limiting her coverage of the Conservatives to, "See you in court."

It's not just the ineptitude of CBC lawyers that rankles right now. As the country and the entire television industry moves onward, CBC TV seems inclined to go backward. It's stuck in some kind of old-school network TV groove and obstinately refuses to budge.

Take Battle of the Blades (Thursdays, CBC, CBC Gem, 8 p.m.). Frankly I couldn't take it when the darn thing returned from the dead a decade after it first arrived. As it happened, I had some sewing and ironing to do that night and the chores trumped Battle of the Blades with ease.

When I did check in on the thing, it was same-old, same-old. Many viewers must share my indifference.

The first episode in September drew about 700,000 viewers. Now in mid-October, the show is getting about 480,000 viewers. It's at the under-half-a-million level. Ratings figures added after delayed PVR viewing will add to those numbers, but not enough to make the show anything like the brief ultra-Canadian sensation it was a decade ago.

Sticking with numbers, the smug inside-CBC notion that it has found a groove with comedy is undermined by mass audience detachment. One recent evening, Still Standing had 331,000 viewers in overnight ratings, 22 Minutes had 347,000, the new TallBoyz had a disappointing 111,000 and Baroness von Sketch Show had 171,000. Those are shocking numbers for Baroness, widely considered a CBC triumph and airing on the IFC cable channel in the United States.

There's something terribly awry, possibly a severely outdated promotional strategy, when a CBC TV tour de force is languishing in the ratings.

And then there's CBC's on/off thing with Netflix. When I read recently that CBC president Catherine Tait had said in an interview that the broadcaster would no longer work with Netflix, my reaction was, "What?" (In fact, the many variations on "what" that Amber Ruffin does on "Amber Says What" on Late Night with Seth Meyers could not do justice to my "What?" reaction.) First, CBC TV was all in with Netflix, and benefited enormously from the streaming service's involvement with Anne with an E and Alias Grace. Then Tait made outlandish comments about the alleged "cultural imperialism" personified in Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Those remarks were later clarified with some expression of regret, but now it looks like a complete U-turn in CBC TV's pact with Netflix. It's a U-turn taking CBC TV backward. In the inside-CBC world, it seems irrelevant that such shows as Kim's Convenience and Schitt's Creek have reached a huge and appreciative audience through the international Netflix platform.

You have to wonder if CBC TV executives actually have a plan apart from resurrecting old series and changing the corporation's position on Netflix. There are, I hasten to add, some experienced TV executives working under Tait. I've met some of them, so I can confirm that they exist.

As for the immediate future, there looms the arrival of Family Feud Canada.

Sixty episodes coming, no less. It might be a charming, harmless TV exercise. It had better be a hit, because it will dominate the CBC TV schedule for ages. It had better bring in the advertising dollars, too, that being the point. Get this - when only two CBC shows sneak into the weekly top-30 most watched TV in Canada, Murdoch Mysteries and the Rogers-owned Hockey Night in Canada, the master plan is to offer a hoary old game show concept with a Canadian twist.

These are exciting times in the TV industry. Streaming services abound, more are coming and the bar has been raised for quality content, thanks to the internet allowing such services to thrive. Perhaps CBC TV's plan for the future is to sue the internet. That'll show the upstarts. The hissy-fit feud will go to court and be funnier than most content on CBC TV right now.


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Who wants to be a politician? Maybe a Netflix show has the answer
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Tuesday, October 22, 2019 – Page A22

TELEVISION

When Muddy Waters recorded Forty Days and Forty Nights in the long-ago, he wasn't thinking about a Canadian election.

He was probably thinking of the Christian hymn of the same title. Or of the Bible, which has multiple references to "40 days," including Moses being on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights.

Well, in this neck of the woods we've had 40 days and nights of politicians blathering at us on a Biblical scale, plus play-acting and more high dudgeon and accusatory remarks than any decent Canadian can put up with. It's just an election campaign, albeit an especially churlish one, and we should be grateful that it's only 40 days. But every election raises a pertinent question: Who wants to be a politician?

Who are these people and what drives them? The end of an election campaign can make some people conclude that they're all posturing charlatans desperate for approval or power.

A person might well be reminded of a quip from Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, "The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one."

The Politician (streaming on Netflix) is fiction that takes the question seriously.

Oh, it's satirical, strange and wades into all sorts of personal and political shenanigans, but it's about the most basic element of politics - getting elected that first time.

All the tricks, the contrivances, the sales job and the honing of sincerity about myriad issues are tackled.

The series is the creation of Ryan Murphy (with his usual collaborators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan) and his first for Netflix. Similar to his masterworks Glee, The People vs. O.J. Simpson and Feud, The Politician is cynical but canny about the faking of human emotions to construct a person and a larger societal narrative. It tends toward overstrung acid humour but is always focused on the mercurial gap between authenticity and practised phoniness.

It's about a young man, Payton (Ben Platt, star of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway) who has decided at the age of 7 that he wants to be president of the United States. Since that moment, everything in his young life is about achieving that. He's perfectly sincere in his belief that the job is his destiny. He's not aiming for fame and money or even power. He just wants the job.

Payton has to start somewhere on this journey. The start is running to become president of the student body at his posh school in Santa Barbara, Calif. (The idea behind Murphy's series is that each season will feature an election process on the road to the presidential election.) And Payton is presented as a kind of floatingatom figure. That is, he's rich and privileged, being the adopted son of a superrich couple (played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Bob Balaban), but also separate from that privilege, in a way, by being the child of a waitress who gave him up for adoption.

The thing about Payton is that he can speak passionately, emotionally, and with apparent sincerity, about his fitness for office. But he doesn't actually feel anything that's real.

The core of the show's theme is presented in the first episode. Payton is lobbying to get into Harvard. A Harvard Dean tells him he's a great candidate but he can't see the "real" Payton. He asks him about the last time he cried. Payton says he cried at the end of the movie It's A Wonderful Life. The Dean asks him if he cried because he was genuinely moved or if he felt he was supposed to cry at that moment. Payton doesn't really have an answer.

There are scenes and episodes that grasp with unerring satiric zeal the construction of a political contender - there is a darkly hilarious subplot about choosing a running mate to validate Payton's candidacy.

And a running joke, about the ups and downs of the candidate's popularity based on the whimsy of voters, never gets tired.

One of the strongest episodes is the fifth, which focuses almost entirely on a young man at Payton's school who might be the last undecided voter. He's a bit depressed, angry and not interested in much except video games and ogling young women. The frantic attempts to get his vote are both depressingly realistic and comically rueful. Everything is seen from the voter's perspective and that's where The Politician, as a series, comes close to being a work of genius.

What it says is that a person's character is their fate, and that character can be faked in the political game. But the skeptical, uncommitted voter, faced with the sales-pitch from the phony, the sincere or the grasping, can often tell the difference between an ideological position and deep, personal belief. Often, but not always.

Even after 40 days of a campaign, some voters will suddenly be aware that there is no valid answer to the question, "Who wants to be a politician?" It's best to keep a skeptical scrutiny and satirical gaze on all of them.


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Criminal on Netflix: Spare, subversive and startlingly good
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Tuesday, October 8, 2019 – Page A15

We really should cherish this period of prestige cable and streaming TV service. In a couple of years, as the streaming wars unfold, there will be an impulse by studios and broadcasters to retrench. More quantity, perhaps, and less quality. We don't know what will happen exactly, but it's possible that truly unique productions will be scarce.

Criminal (now streaming Netflix Canada) is a sterling example of incredibly smart, unorthodox programming. It's small scale yet, at the same time, large scale as it spans several countries and languages. The idea behind it is ingenious and it stands as a retort to the contrived, unmemorable police procedurals that crowd the network schedules.

It's a 12-part crime anthology series, with each episode focused entirely and unremittingly on a suspect's interrogation.

Thus, people in a room talking. Or refusing to talk, or being coaxed or intimidated into talking. And, really, it's a set of four series, with episodes set in Britain, Germany, Spain and France. This fact underlines Netflix's global reach and the streaming service's need to have a footprint in multiple markets. As such, it's a reminder that, sometimes, great entertainment and art are forged into existence by the forces of commerce, the market and technology.

The first episode of the British-based batch of episodes presents the template.

These are, as you can imagine, very talky episodes. Yet in the first, star David Tennant, as the suspect, says very little except "No comment," for ages. Yet you watch him, completely captivated. You're watching a flicker in his eyes, hand moving to a pen on the table and then withdrawing.

You are listening to the cops, who are slowly becoming exasperated.

Each batch of episodes throws some light on the similarities between the criminal systems in the four countries and the subtle differences. In the interrogation room in London, time is running out for the interrogation team. They can only hold the suspect for a certain time and must charge or release him. Tennant plays Edgar, a doctor suspected of raping and murdering his teenage stepdaughter. The interrogators ask him brutally frank questions.

(Lee Ingleby plays the main investigator with a slowburning intensity that's brilliant.) It looks like Edgar must be guilty. He's a middle-aged man with many issues. You sense his depression and fatigue. Then, when he finally begins speaking, he offers a counternarrative that might be just as plausible as what the police have thrown at him.

In this episode, as in the others, we get little glimpses of the work and private lives of the interrogators. Just elliptical glimpses, though - a few words while getting a coffee from a vending machine, a brief conversation in an office corridor.

Everything is formidably confined, mind you. You understand how police officers acquire tunnel vision. The intensity is boosted by the tight confines and meant to suggest, obviously, what awaits the suspect if found guilty. And then there is, in these brief scenes, the powerful reminder that mundane matters transpire while the suspect is undergoing a life-changing, traumatic questioning.

There are multiple strong episodes, but one major standout is the first episode of the Germany-based batch, called Jochen.

The suspect, a self-important older man, a real estate developer, begins by aiming condescension at the young woman asking the questions. On the other side of the two-way mirror, a male cop arrives late for the session and is furious that he's been usurped. Meanwhile, a young male colleague plays video games on his computer, bored by the case and the interrogation.

As the interrogation goes on, the entire recent history of Germany, from reunification to now, is being unearthed. A man went missing when the Berlin Wall came down. It's no big deal, the suspect asserts, because a lot of people started new lives then. Slowly, ever so slowly, the past comes into focus, as it must, for the interrogator and for Germany itself. Outside of the room, we sometimes see the many shades of grey that is Berlin in winter, lending an even more gloomy air to the proceedings inside. The sparseness of it all amounts to a master work of simplicity and power.

The series - the British episodes are the work of George Kay and Jim Field Smith, and directors and writers in the other countries follow their pattern - manages to avoid cliché and showiness. It builds on the claustrophobia inherent in its concept - people in a room giving duelling stories abut a possible crime.

Some suspects are guilty and others aren't. It all seems almost subversive in its bare-bones plainness, and it has the power to astonish. Savour it.

With that, I must leave for a short break.

Back here in two weeks. Be good to each other and enjoy what you watch in this great era of TV.


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It's time to take televised election debates seriously
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Monday, October 7, 2019 – Page A15

TELEVISION

When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of Britain, she bluntly rejected televised debates between party leaders at election time. Her reasoning was this: "We're not electing a president, we're choosing a government."

Essentially, Thatcher thought the laser focus on party leaders performing on TV diminished the importance of party policy and platforms, and that TV performance by leaders is inappropriate in a parliamentary democracy.

Well, we're stuck with them now, here, there and everywhere. The Federal Leaders' Debate 2019 (Monday, 7 p.m. ET, multiple channels) is upon us.

The history of TV debates in parliamentary democracies is relatively short and not much studied. Search for serious study of TV debates and their impact, and you'll find that the field is dominated by scrutiny of U.S. presidential debates.

As sure as the sun rises on the day of an election debate, somebody will write about the seismic impact of the televised Kennedy/Nixon debate in 1960, the first such debate to take place. It will be mentioned that those who heard it on radio believed Richard Nixon won and those who saw it on TV thought John F. Kennedy won emphatically. That assertion is now challenged, since the sample of radio listeners surveyed was small. Still, Kennedy believed TV viewers clinched it for him, as indeed did Nixon, who declined to participate in TV debates when he ran for president in 1968 and 1972.

So, it's the mercurial impact of TV images that matter then, for good or ill. It's all so mercurial, mind you, that there's very little the leaders can do to influence the perception of people watching at home. No matter how well coached, the built-in personality, tone and comportment of leaders cannot be altered dramatically.

Television can be cruel to politicians. It exposes hesitation and ignorance about topics, and highlights them. The person is the message. The message is the person.

Live TV requires participation or completion by the audience. That is, the viewer projects much onto certain people on TV. Some politicians have an excellent relationship with the TV camera. It's really a sublimated message they generate by being completely confident, unruffled, relaxed and having nothing to hide.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is very good at it.

Until, that is, he's under pressure, and he's under way more pressure now than four years ago.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer isn't good at it. He's good at appearing to be above the fray and he can seem folksy, but the folksiness can seem forced. His enemy is the mistrust that viewers might have and that TV highlights.

A lot of punditry about our election debates focuses on the need for a knock out, "gotcha" moment. These moments, if they happen, matter most to the partisans watching. It invigorates them. But by the time a TV election debate happens, the theatre of the TV debate is really aimed at undecided voters.

For all the questions asked of the leaders and all the umbrage taken by one leader at another leader's assertions, people watching at home have only one question: What kind of country do I want to live in? The leader who appears to have a direct connection with the viewer and issues an invitation to collaborate on the future of the country, an invitation that an undecided voter would accept, is the true winner.

On this occasion though, it's the viewers who are the actual winners. Fifteen years ago, writing in The Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson had looked at the U.S. presidential debate between George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, and wrote this: "Contrast Thursday's exercise in U.S. civics with the shouting match that passed for a television debate during the Canadian election campaign - and the one before that, and the one before that. Our debates have descended into irritating, catcalling exercises in grandstanding, for which the networks are at least partly to blame."

He was right. Now, we have official debates organized by the Leaders' Debates Commission with the broadcasters. Monday's debate will feature six leaders. Apart from Trudeau and Scheer, they are NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Bloc Québécois Leader YvesFrançois Blanchet and People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier. Five major topics will be covered in two hours and include five questions submitted by Canadians.

In the English debate, the distinct sections will be guided by moderators from multiple outlets - Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star, Dawna Friesen of Global News, Althia Raj, Ottawa bureau chief of HuffPost Canada, Lisa LaFlamme of CTV News and Rosemary Barton of CBC News.

It's high time we took federal election TV debates with the seriousness they deserve.

Nobody wins until the viewers decide.

Thatcher was wrong - we help choose a government by watching a serious debate on TV.


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New fall TV is serious-minded escapism with political twists
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Writers and producers are embracing the cultural currents of the moment, John Doyle writes, and there's certainly something for everyone
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Saturday, September 28, 2019 – Page R1

If there are dominant themes and flavours to the new fall TV season, the main theme is anti-acrimony delivered by the vehicle of dark comedy.

And the flavour is whatever makes you nostalgic and feeling nice about the world. It's a bit harumscarum.

But there are two constants in television: entertaining escapism and psychological depth with sociological analysis. If you just want escapism, then the heavily promoted Stumptown (Wednesdays ABC, CTV) is your thing. It's a police procedural starring Canadian Cobie Smulders as "a badass army vet with a messy personal life" who freelances as a private investigator. (A co-star is Canadian Tantoo Cardinal.) The superbly made pilot is a propulsive procedural. At the same time, it's significant that the lead character is a tough female army vet and flawed, wounded and strong, all at the same time.

See, sometimes escapism is also culturally significant.

Time was, extrapolating meaning from a slew of new series on U.S. networks and cable meant figuring out how writers and producers embraced the cultural currents of the moment. Often, the currents shifted with each new presidency. Thus, you could say that such network series as Glee, Modern Family and The Good Wife were Obama-era TV; an aura of tolerance imbued two and a reaction against oldschool politics was the engine of the third.

This Donald Trump-era TV period has careened wildly from vaguely right-wing, military-themed dramas such as NBC's The Brave (original title, For God and Country) to ABC's decision to revive Roseanne and somehow have Roseanne Barr and the Conner family reflect the Trump base.

Sometimes embracing cultural currents works easily and sometimes it all crashes and burns.

Ask ABC and Roseanne Barr.

Right now, Trump-era American TV is more oppositional and reactive, rather than something entwined with Trump values and attitudes. The new and already running CBS comedy Bob Hearts Abishola (Mondays, CBS, CTV) is superficially a wacky love story, but is really about bringing immigrant experience to romantic comedy. Bob, middle-aged, white and owner of a compression-sock factory, has a heart attack and then falls for his cardiac nurse, the Nigerian immigrant Abishola.

When presenting the series to TV critics, creator Chuck Lorre wore a yellow cap with the letters "IMAG," which stands for "Immigrants Make America Great." That's another kind of connection with cultural currents.

Confusion about values is everywhere.

Even in the seemingly gimmicky drama Evil, (Thursdays CBS, now running), which pairs a clinical psychologist and a priestin-training who tackle criminals "possessed by evil," the question of core values, touching on the common good and evil individuals, is teased out. The show is the creation of the writers of The Good Wife and the very political The Good Fight. Their work always seethes with political undercurrents.

There is smart, mordant humour about political and personal values in Ryan Murphy's first series for Netflix, The Politician (streaming on Netflix). It's about a teenager, (Ben Platt, star of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway), who wants to be president some day and is determined to start by becoming president of his highschool student body.

The new Fox animated comedy Bless the Harts (starts Sunday) could be labelled late-Trump-era TV. It's about a group of dirtpoor Southerners (read: Trumpbase) who are always broke and waiting for the arrival of the American dream of status and wealth.

Nothing ever goes right, but they know how to enjoy themselves. Kristen Wiig, who is also a producer, voices with Maya Rudolph.

The new Fox drama Almost Family (in Canada on CTV, starts Oct. 2) can be seen as rumination on two political and social currents, specifically the #MeToo movement and the matter of what a family clan (read: society) actually means. It's about an only child finding out her father, a fertility doctor, used his own sperm to conceive upward of a hundred children.

To some people it will matter that the central character in Batwoman (The CW, Showcase, starts Oct. 6) is a feminist, lesbian superhero and for others it will only matter that it's all wham-bam comic-book action.

There's something for everyone. Here are 10 coming shows to savour.

BACK TO LIFE (CRAVE/SHOWTIME STARTS OCT. 6) Another in a batch of excellent series emerging from Britain recently, this strange dark comedy comes from the producers of Fleabag. Daisy Haggard plays Miri Matteson, who, after 18 years behind bars, returns home and falls chaotically back into life in the small seaside town she grew up in, and where she is now notorious. Exactly what she did to earn jail time is held back for a while. What isn't hidden is the depth of the poignancy of her situation. Deadpan, droll and funny while being heartbreaking, it's a small masterpiece.

MODERN LOVE (AMAZON PRIME VIDEO STARTS OCT. 18) Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Andy Garcia and Dev Patel are just some of the names starring in this new anthology series (eight half-hours) based on the popular New York Times column and podcast of the same name. The strongest episode might be the one with Tina Fey and John Slattery (Mad Men) as a long-married couple. When a therapist asks what they do for date night, Fey's character answers, "This!"

WATCHMEN (CRAVE/HBO, STARTS OCT. 20) Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) is behind the lavish, loose adaptation of the 1986 graphic novel, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which is regarded as a classic, trenchant dismantling of the superhero genre. The gist: A Tulsa, Okla., police department puts masks on officers to fight a threat ("a vast and insidious conspiracy") from a white-supremacist militia, the Seventh Kalvary, who have adopted the images of comic-book vigilante superheroes. Utterly engrossing, smart and visually stunning.

THE MANDALORIAN (DISNEY+, STARTS NOV. 12) Disney+ is the major streaming service that's launching this fall, and it's kicking off with this drama, the first live-action Star Wars television series. Set in the years immediately after Return of the Jedi, the show's central story arc will be about a gunfighter - modelled after Boba Fett, "the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy" - and played by former Game of Thrones and Narcos star Pedro Pascal.

THE MORNING SHOW (APPLETV+, STARTS NOV. 4) This will be Apple's calling card for its TV venture. Loosely "inspired" by Top of the Morning, the book by CNN's Brian Stelter about the morning-TV wars, the series promises an acid take on the politics of those network morning shows with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell in the major roles.

You don't usually get that kind of talent for a so-so TV drama.

LIVING WITH YOURSELF (NETFLIX, OCT. 18) Trippy but serious-minded, this has Paul Rudd in two roles. He plays a regular guy who is a bit depressed and takes a chance on a mental spa-treatment that promises to change him. It does.

But it turns out the old version of himself was never discarded, and haunts him and his life. The material to see in advance is wonderfully funny while staying on a theme that is really a meditation on an existential crisis about the true self of the central character.

CATHERINE THE GREAT (CRAVE/HBO, STARTS OCT. 21) It's not as though there's a shortage of historical costume drama, but Helen Mirren as Catherine, empress of Russia, in the last years of her reign, is more than tantalizing. From what's available in advance, the mini-series (an HBO/Sky Atlantic co-production) is about the absolute power of an absolute ruler and, of course, about the idea of a Russian empire.

DAYBREAK (NETFLIX, STARTS OCT. 24) Big, broad and madly satiric at times, it's about teenagers creating their own crazy community in postapocalyptic Glendale, Calif. Adapted from Brian Ralph's comic series, it's really about these teenagers imitating the video games and TV series they've grown up on, to fashion a new world. Very, very funny stuff, certainly at the start.

THE CROWN (NETFLIX, STARTS NOV. 17) Olivia Colman succeeds Claire Foy as the Queen in Season 3 of Netflix's continuing royal biopic The Crown. Foy won an Emmy for best actress for her role, so the pressure's on Colman. But there is also the casting of Tobias Menzies, brilliant in Outlander, as the older Prince Philip. Plus, there's Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. The third and the coming fourth series will deal with the Royal Family spanning the years 1964-76.

HIS DARK MATERIALS (CRAVE/HBO, STARTS NOV. 4) Often touted as the successor to Game of Thrones in terms of fantasy and intrigue, this big, gorgeous adaptation of Philip Pullman's novels follows Lyra (Dafne Keen), a girl with very special gifts, whose mission is to stop a plot to secretly abduct great multitudes of children. It also stars James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda, but they might all be upstaged by the breathtaking special effects.

Associated Graphic

TV show Evil, left, pairs a clinical psychologist and priest-in-training who tackle criminals that are 'possessed by evil.' The Politician, right, is Ryan Murphy's first series for Netflix, and focuses on a teenager who is set on becoming president of his high-school student body.

His Dark Materials, above, stars James McAvoy as Lord Asriel in an adaptation of Philip Pullman's novels. Paul Rudd stars in Living with Yourself, below, as a man who is haunted by the old version of himself.


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Carnival Row: Marvellous mashup of Victorian drama and fantasy
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Thursday, September 26, 2019 – Page A15

TELEVISION

Even since it became clear that Game of Thrones was a TV phenomenon like few others, a small army of people have been trying to cook up the next GoT. The impulse among producers and writers has been to find a recipe that included fantasy, violence, politics, sex and revenge. And super-special effects.

It's not an easy recipe to nail down. The resulting concoction must be visually startling but have enough down-and-dirty human action to be gripping. Special effects and elaborate mythology that's really a pastiche of authentic mythology will only take you so far.

Carnival Row (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video) has been labelled as a viable post-Game of Thrones fantasy hit.

And wrongly so. It's far too rooted in contemporary politics about anti-immigrant rhetoric to be entirely fantastical and it's far too close to a pastiche of existing British crime drama you might find on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. It's the most extraordinary mashup, actually. It's good, but far from perfect, mind you, as various threads aren't exactly woven neatly together.

It does have several things going for it, even if, like me, you're a bit wary of fantasy storytelling involving faerie folk. The appealing elements here are the cogent theme of simmering racism, plus a murder mystery and a fierce erotic charge that smoulders vividly and bursts into flame often.

The gist is this: In an alternative universe that looks like the British Empire of Victorian times, a group of countries called the Pact has been trying to wipe out the fae folk. They have conquered the place the fae folk inhabit, called Tirnanoc (obviously derived from the place in Irishlanguage mythology called Tir na nog, or the Land of Youth) and some fae people - and "faun" - escape to a place called the Burgue, which is sympathetic to them.

That is, the Burgue is sympathetic until all these refugees, who look and sound different, start arriving en masse.

For the Burgue, think Victorian London from every movie about Jack the Ripper ever made. And indeed there is a Jack-like figure on the prowl. He's been murdering fae women, many of whom work as prostitutes in a seedy area called Carnival Row.

Leading the search for the murderer is maverick police officer Rycroft Philostrate, known as Philo (Orlando Bloom).

For him, think Inspector Murdoch on steroids, a guy with a taste for violence and bodice-ripper sex.

While he's looking for the killer, one fae woman refugee, Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) is looking for Philo. They were star-crossed lovers when he was fighting against the Pact and she was a feisty freedom fighter for the fae folk.

Now, in a teeming city where she's obliged to work as a servant for an upper-crust family, their paths are bound to cross.

Thus you've got a love story that's very Victorian, about people from different classes and environments. You've also got a lot more Victoriana in the politics of the place. Men with pork-chop sideburns argue about the "refuse" washing up on their shore, while the Chancellor (Jared Harris, who is great) tries to keep the calm. These loud and angry men might be 19th-century Tory politicians arguing about refugees from the Irish famine descending on England or they might be U.S.

Republicans today arguing about migrants crossing the border. There are more allegories here than you can shake a policeman's baton at.

The series was written by Travis Beacham and René Echevarria and began life as a movie that went unproduced. And you can sometimes tell - it lurches in unexpected directions and it takes a while before Bloom and Delevingne actually develop chemistry. But it's recommended; a period costume drama on acid, and as strangely carnal as it is solidly and politically aware. As one politician in it says, "The chaos of war has brought a new swarm of refugees to these shores." And as one of the beguiling faerie woman says, "A racist with a hammer is killing us where he finds us." For all its fantasy elements, Carnival Row is raw with germane relevance.

ALSO AIRING: 17 And Life Doesn't Wait (Thursday, TVO in Ontario, 9 p.m. and nationally on tvo.org) by director Maureen Judge is a vivid, often wrenching look at life through the eyes of three teen girls. The three are in their final year of high school, and getting ready for the world outside. Of the three, some are happy and optimistic while others have dread lurking in them. The doc is wonderfully nuanced and at times heartbreaking.

The matter of the suicides of teens they know comes up.

Shot over nine months, 17 And Life Doesn't Wait is no snapshot. It delves deep into its subjects as they deal with daily life, rejection and family tensions. All three emerge as unforgettable figures.


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ER BEGINS ITS SEASON WITH A LIVE EPISODE
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Wednesday, September 25, 2019 – Page A2

There wasn't much live TV drama in 1997, apart from all-news coverage. The decision to open ER's fourth season with a live broadcast was first considered a gimmick and, later, a triumph. At the time, NBC was one cocky network with a strong Thursday night lineup and gimmicks such as "supersized" episodes and major guest stars during sweeps ratings periods.

The decision to air live was risky, but reportedly done at the urging of stars George Clooney and Anthony Edwards. They believed the show's fast pace and endless movement in a hospital ER was ideal for a propulsive, no-editing experiment. Adding to the risk was the inclusion of two new actors and their characters, Maria Bello as Dr. Anna Del Amico (she had appeared before but only as a temporary figure), and Alex Kingston in her first appearance as British trauma surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Corday. The cast performed the live show twice, for East and West Coast audiences. The result was breathtaking, but the work going into it was elaborate and exhausting for everyone involved. Live TV drama would remain rare, no matter how much praise that episode received. JOHN DOYLE

Associated Graphic

The decision to air ER live was reportedly done at the urging of actors George Clooney, front row, second from left, and Anthony Edwards, back row, centre.


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Don't be afraid of 'the worst show on Netflix'
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Wednesday, September 25, 2019 – Page A18

Recently in this space, I was extolling the many virtues of the second season of HBO's Succession, which is now a big-time Emmy winner. Among other points I laboured to make was the theatricality of key episodes. The central characters, none of them appealing, are put in confined spaces to act out their awfulness.

No sooner had I pronounced than along came a new Netflix series that has, and I kid you not, been called "the worst show on Netflix." Thing is, it puts people in one remote location and there's a well-known playwright involved.

The I-Land landed recently on Netflix and critics and viewers outdid each other to express contempt. Such fierce reaction was, well, notable. Makes one suspicious, too. Involved in writing the series is playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute. Now, LaBute is probably best known for his movie In the Company of Men, which is about two obnoxious businessmen concocting a plan to romance and then emotionally destroy a deaf woman. It's about really, really bad behaviour by toxic, misogynist men.

But his real prominence is his 30 years as a playwright, with his plays, often award-winning, including Filthy Talk for Troubled Time and The Mercy Seat. They usually dwell on men who either despise or oversimplify women. They're intense, divisive works. As a scholar of his plays has said, his work "causes its audiences major moral discomfort."

It's in that context we must look at The I-Land. Not in the babble of online derision. The seven-part series - episodes are about 40 minutes long - stars Natalie Martinez, Kate Bosworth and lesser-known actors as a group of strangers who wake up on a mysterious island with no memory of how they got there.

It's sort of like Lost with a minimal twist of bare-bones psychological paranoia.

It's not giving too much away to say that it becomes clear from flashbacks the characters experience that they are probably all criminals who have been deposited on the island as some sort of perverse experiment.

Things get off to a rocky start. One of the women says, "Maybe we're on a work trip, we're all wearing the same thing." A man dismisses the idea. She snaps at him. He says, "You know you're really confrontational, and you're a real bitch." Certainly one of the male characters is a rapist. He attempts two sexual assaults in the first two episodes. When confronted by one victim, he says, "I wasn't trying to rape you. There's no such thing like that in a place like this.

There's just sex and no sex. We didn't have any sex." Chew on that as an example of a LaBute-ian take in how some men think.

Further, the characters immediately begin playing power games with others, making this less a half-baked riff on Lost than it might be a perverse take on Survivor. It's just that in The I-Land, some characters have a knife or an axe at their disposal and you know they are going to be wielded against other characters.

By Episode 3, many clues about the experiment are revealed and a different kind of show, with a different kind of action, is unfolding. We're in sci-fi territory, but we suspected that from the beginning.

Read the credits for The I-Land and it's allegedly "created" by one Anthony Salter. Except this person doesn't seem to exist. He has no other credits, has no presence online and many believe it's a pseudonym. That only adds to the mystery surrounding the series. Certainly, the very real LeBute was involved. He wrote the first four episodes and directed the pilot.

What he's done is make a fascinating near-disaster of a series. The dialogue is often flat, the character development is thin and there are very odd sequences, such as the one in which a central female character is filmed running down a beach in panic, but it's made in slowmotion with grave attention to her heaving bosom, as if Baywatch was being parodied. You have to see it to believe it, the peculiarity of such scenes.

And yet for all that, it is beyond doubt strangely fascinating and it would be wrong to write off the series and merely heap abuse on it, as many critics and viewers have done. It's insanely structured and at times off-putting. But maybe it's not a near-disaster and it's actually an off-the-wall experiment that doesn't quite click.

It's not run-of-the-mill drama and actually about something - how men behave in isolation and how women react to them. One of the victims of the rapist on the island actually tells another woman, "What happened out there was my fault, entirely my fault." That's a conversation-stopper. This bizarre series, as idiosyncratic as it often is, asks the question: "Can a woman and the audience be persuaded to nullify that kind of attitude?" Buckle up, don't be afraid of "the worst show on Netflix," because it isn't that, at all.


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The Emmy Awards made a terrible show, but had many deserving winners
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Tuesday, September 24, 2019 – Page A17

TELEVISION

The decision to go host-free for Sunday's Emmy Awards was wrong. The show dragged and slumped, not at all what the hostless Academy Awards turned out to be on the night. And the fast overnight ratings picture proves the point - the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox (CTV in Canada) had 25 per cent less viewership than last year's show.

During the red carpet fandango, which went on for as long as the awards presentation itself, Sarah Silverman took a little shot at the Television Academy for opting not to have a host. "They're afraid of comedians," she said. Later during the telecast, she feigned sleep in her seat.

Fair point. And it's a telltale sign, this move toward no-host awards shows. It's a sign of a polarized country and culture. A breezy host, full of sarcastic remarks can get the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, and we all know what one of his Twitter rants can do. At the same time, the choice of a host is tricky in a time when the past actions and social-media comments of a comedian will be scrutinized and ructions will follow.

The Fox network tactic for getting around the no-host thing was to have actor/comedian Thomas Lennon in a booth doing snarky voiceovers. Often, the viewer couldn't hear what he was saying. When they did, it was sometimes jaw-droppingly dumb.

Among other unwise witticisms, he called Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge "Britain's most popular bridge" and referred to the HBO series Chernobyl as the "little nuclear disaster that could."

There was another sign of the sheer messiness of the broadcast when one of the winners for Chernobyl went onstage accompanied by upbeat disco music. See, not only was there no host, but there was no orchestra. It was up to some incompetent DJ to add mostly inappropriate music.

Still, mention of Chernobyl brings us to the true value of this year's Emmy Awards.

For the most part, quality shows and performances won.

That is, there were truly deserving winners. Fleabag, an original groundbreaking female-centric dark comedy on Amazon Prime Video, won several.

HBO's Barry won.

HBO's Succession won, an acknowledgment that the drama, which had a slow start in terms of audience and critical attention, is magnificent drama.

Killing Eve's Jodie Comer, outstanding as the show's villain, won after being bizarrely overlooked last year.

Many shows and performances were surprise wins but commendable decisions.

Julia Garner won the award for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for her work in Netflix's Ozark.

Garner, a first-time nominee, is an actor of sublime skill, having done glittering work on FX's The Americans, Bravo's Dirty John and Netflix's Maniac.

It was just truly remarkable that in her category, she prevailed over four Game Of Thrones actors.

Game of Thrones won outstanding drama series, the climactic award of the night. This was expected, as an industry-wide acknowledgment of how the series had set an incredibly high standard and became a worldwide phenomenon.

Mind you, other awards for Game of Thrones were thin on the ground, perhaps proving true a rumour in the TV industry that there was genuine disappointment with the show's lame final season.

There were other elements of the awards-giving that were both well deserved and highly peculiar.

Billy Porter became the first openly gay black man to win outstanding lead actor in a drama for Pose. Now that's deserved. The first season of Pose, the one nominated for Sunday's Emmy's, was stellar, and a historic moment in TV history given its attention to gay and trans characters. The second season has been much less impressive and a severe disappointment.

TV Academy voters also continued their inexplicable devotion to Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs.

Maisel, giving supporting actress and actor awards to Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub, respectively.

Mrs. Maisel is a series that has long since become self-indulgent and meandering, however, Borstein's speech, about her grandmother surviving the Holocaust, was a standout on an emotionally monotonous evening.

The other standout speech, to judge by socialmedia reaction and praise from other actors, was from Michelle Williams, who deservedly won for FX's Fosse/Verdon.

"The next time a woman, and especially a woman of colour, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart, tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her," Williams said.

It was a rare moment of direct political and social commentary on a night in which seriousminded TV scooped up many of the awards.

A reason for the lower-than-expected ratings was undoubtedly the lack of attention, let alone awards, for network TV series. Those are the shows a mass audience is familiar with. The big winner was HBO, with 32 awards. Netflix finished second with 27 and Amazon was third with 15.

But that can't be the only reason for a ratings slump - the Emmy Awards as a telecast is in dire need of a rethink. For all the surprises and awards for real excellence, the show was a flop. It might be better next year because that's how TV works. It better be and the Academy could start by not being afraid of real comedians as hosts.


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These Emmy Awards are bound to be fun, but very fraught
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TV is about storytelling, and the stories that seethe beneath the awards are as dramatic as any series airing or streaming right now
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Saturday, September 21, 2019 – Page A18

It's TV's biggest night. There will be dozens of stars there, including movie stars, who used to avoid television work but now crave it. They will walk the red carpet and present awards for hours and hours. Fun or what?

Nothing is just fun these days.

Thing is, The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards (Sunday, Fox, CTV, 8 p.m.)

will be loads of fun for the nominees and presenters, and for the audience at home, but this one is fraught. With television in a state of flux that was once unimaginable - multiple new streaming services will launch between now and next year's Emmys - and bristling tensions among writers, their agents and studios, there's a lot at stake.

And then there are the prestige series that contrived to avoid this round of Emmys, including The Crown, Stranger Things and The Handmaid's Tale, by delaying their new seasons so as not to be eligible. Contrivance or cunning ruse?

You can be the judge if you want to make judgments. It's not easy, believe me.

While you might be happy to watch to see if Game of Thrones and Veep win yet more awards now that they have finished their runs, or ponder if Sandra Oh or Jodie Comer - both nominated for Killing Eve - are more deserving, others are watching and listening closely to acceptance speeches.

See, six months ago 7,000 writers, members of the Writers Guild of America, fired their agents after a battle between the WGA and agencies about fees and packaging deals went nowhere. The TV trade papers call it "psychological warfare." Listen, there is probably someone cooking up a drama about that right now.

There's no host, following the lead of the Academy Awards.

There are more presenters than it is possible to convey in one newspaper column. And there are entire casts presenting - Game of Thrones, the cast of Veep, and, in case anyone thinks they have money and power, the cast of Keeping Up with the Kardashians will present, thereby endeavouring to make everyone else feel small and unimportant.

Two categories matter the most and offer their own subplots. They are best drama series and best comedy series. Up for best drama are Better Call Saul (AMC), Bodyguard (Netflix), Game of Thrones (HBO), Killing Eve (BBC America), Ozark (Netflix), Pose (FX), Succession (HBO) and This Is Us (NBC). A likely winner is Game of Thrones because it's Game of Thrones and the voters have seen it. At the same time, there are rumblings of a backlash, with the final batch of episodes disappointing many in the industry who wanted a triumphantly emphatic finish. What should win is Pose. In its first season, it soared.

In its second season, it was barely watchable. That's TV for you.

In best comedy series it's Barry (HBO), Fleabag (Amazon Prime Video), The Good Place (NBC), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video), Russian Doll, (Netflix), the CBC's Schitt's Creek (airing in the United States on Pop) and Veep (HBO).

What should win is Fleabag.

Who else broke the fourth wall of TV and addressed the audience?

What other series made you that uncomfortable and at the same time made you feel wise about life? What will win is Veep, because Julia Louis Dreyfus and because Trump. If you can't criminally prosecute Trump then at least you can celebrate a series that aimed to mock the bejeepers out of the awfulness of Washington politics.

In terms of sheer quality and relevance, the category that truly has power is best limited series.

Look at the list: Chernobyl (HBO), Escape at Dannemora (Showtime), Fosse/Verdon (FX), Sharp Objects (HBO) and When They See Us (Netflix). The level of artistic ambition in all nominees is incredible.

What should win is Chernobyl, a series that is a profound elegy for truth. It moved along with a grave sadness, though, and that is why When They See Us, which is moved by anger about race and class in America, will probably win. And that's fair.

Right now, television has an immediate, cutting-edge power that actually transcends the Emmy Awards. It's bound to be fun, this three-hour endorsement of countless shows, actors and writers. But it's fraught, too, if you know where to look beyond the narcissistic and precious quality that comes with any awards show. Television is about storytelling and the stories that seethe beneath the Emmys are as dramatic as any fantasy or policeprocedural airing or streaming right now.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND She Walks With Apes (Saturday, CBC NN on The Nature of Things) is a big-time CBC doc made by Mark Starowicz. Narrated by Sandra Oh and gorgeously made, it's about the so-called "Trimates," three women who went into the jungles of Africa and Borneo to live with the great apes. It's about Jane Goodall, but also has rarely seen images of Dian Fossey, who was murdered while working with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

And then there is Canadian Birute Galdikas, who lived among the orangutans of Borneo 50 years ago and is still there today.

American Masters: Charley Pride: I'm Just Me (Sunday, PBS, 10 p.m.) is a repeat from earlier this year but an excellent addendum to the Ken Burns series Country Music. Charley Pride was and is the most unlikely of country superstars - a sharecropper's son born on a cotton farm in segregated Sledge, Miss., then Negro American League baseball player and a truly trail-blazing countrymusic star. His story is bizarre in so many ways, but heartening.

Associated Graphic

The HBO show Veep, with star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is nominated for outstanding comedy series. HBO VIA AP


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It works: Canada's Lilly Singh really is a late-night revolutionary
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Wednesday, September 18, 2019 – Page A14

TELEVISION

Canadian Lilly Singh's new late-night talk show A Little Late With Lilly Singh (NBC, Global, 1:35 a.m.) does not, on the surface, seem revolutionary.

There's a studio audience and the host sits at a desk and interviews people. It starts with a monologue, then there's a comedy bit and then there's the interview, usually with a celebrity promoting something. That's pretty much the template for late-night chat shows going back decades. But at the same time, A Little Late is definitely radical.

It might be just 30 minutes long, but Singh is the only female late-night host on any of the main networks. And there's the matter of who Singh is, and what she represents. As she said herself on Monday's debut show, "I get it. I'm not your traditional talk-show host. The media has mentioned that I am a bisexual woman of colour so much that I feel like I should just change my name to 'Bisexual Woman of Colour.' " As groundbreaking as Singh's elevation from YouTube (where she has 14 million followers) to late night on NBC might be, there's no doubt the network believes Singh has the potential to be huge. She appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers, the show that precedes hers, and she has been heavily promoted. And she gets a prime-time special on Wednesday (NBC, Global, 10 p.m.), which lasts an hour.

Singh kicked off her first show issuing many reminders of her unique status. And who can blame her? The introduction was a sketch in which she enters an all-male meeting of TV execs who are discussing how to make her fit the late-night mould.

She slams her hands on the table, climbs on it and delivers a rap. With considerable gusto she explains, among other things, "I'm gonna throw some melanin up in your late-night" and, "I ain't talking about Donald unless his last name is Glover."

It went on a bit long, the rap, but the key line was, "A lady runs the show!"

Then came the actual show and the opening monologue. She addressed "middle America" and said "seeing someone like me hosting a show is terrifying." She added that some Americans think minorities are coming to take their jobs and, citing herself in the late-night arena, she shouted, "They are!"

One notable aspect of her style is addressing the studio audience and the camera relentlessly. In fact, she's milking the audience's adoration of her.

This might be a leftover from her YouTube routine, but it became distinctly distracting when she got around to interviewing her guest, Mindy Kaling.

Most talk-show hosts create a very particular kind of dynamic with a guest. It's a matter of having a personal conversation while being aware of the audience in the studio and at home. It's tricky and not every host is a natural at this. Meyers is excellent and Jimmy Kimmel took ages to hone it. But Singh's constant glancing to the camera and quips to the audience gave the sequence something of an amateurish air. Also, the joshing with Kaling eventually went flat as Singh's comedic point seemed to be an effort to make Kaling seem a tad old and out of touch.

That's a rough edge that can be smoothed out over time. What won't be changed, mind you, is the emphasis on popular culture as the core of the show's humour. (Apart, that is, from Singh's reminders of her heritage and status as a bisexual woman.) She meant it when she declared in her rap that she's not doing jokes about Trump. Her show is all about TV, movies and online phenomena.

That's bound to be part of her appeal for NBC - she can connect with a much younger audience. Still, there's going to be a point in the show's future when even that younger audience is going to wonder what Singh thinks about Trump and Trump-era shenanigans.

For all those quibbles about format and technique, there is no doubt that Singh is a perfect fit for late night. She has the brashness, energy and wit to command a show with ease. The show will evolve, as all new late-night entries do, but Singh is already triumphant - she's a revolutionary figure and she's nailed it from the start.

Associated Graphic

With the debut of NBC's A Little Late With Lilly Singh, the homegrown YouTube star has mostly nailed the talk-show format.

SCOTT ANGELHEART/NBC


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New sketch-comedy series TallBoyz kicks off CBC season
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Tuesday, September 17, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

O key dokey, let's talk Canadian content, specifically the comedy content.

You get a lot of laughs watching Canadian TV, including the news coverage. On Saturday night, there was a doozy of Scheer comedy on the election coverage. Oddly choreographed, mind you, but howlingly funny. At a campaign stop, Andrew Scheer introduced his family, who had alighted from a bus. Then, he shook hands with them, as Conservative leaders do.

Eventually, he started talking about the local candidate, one Justina McCaffrey. Next thing you know, when it's time for McCaffrey to take questions, the candidate legs it out of there, with reporters giving chase, and leaves in a speeding car. It was hilarious stuff.

How on earth can conventional, scripted comedy compete? Well, there's great news on that front - CBC TV is on a roll with sketch comedy right now and the new CBC season is under way.

TallBoyz (Tuesday, CBC, 9 p.m.) is new and very funny. And I mean funny in a fresh, zippy and up-tothe-moment manner. Meet Vance Banzo, Guled Abdi, Franco Nguyen and Tim Blair who are, at regular intervals, being chased by transit authorities. If you live in Toronto, you know the feeling. It's Torontocentric, this new show, but that's not a drawback at all. There's also a touch of Kids in the Hall to the style (Bruce McCulloch is the producer), which is sometimes surreal, but TallBoyz are utterly distinct and the comedy goes from acute and cutting to uproariously broad.

That something-foreveryone approach works because these are comics who can do singular roles that rely on individual skills and work winsomely as a group. There's a sketch in the opening episode that isn't typical, but sets the series apart - it's really about the controversy in Ontario about the sexual-education curriculum being dialled back by decades. As the sketch unfolds, it's both funny and, you can tell, a blast of rage.

Kids watch a 1990s-era sex-education drama unfold on TV with some mystification. "Do they mean sex?" a high schooler asks at one point. "I'm not legally allowed to say," is the cagey reply from the teacher.

Then there's a very funny bit about one in three Torontonians claiming to have almost met Drake, which people both inside and outside Toronto will adore. And then the transit cops turn up again.

The core material often mocks contemporary males. A spoof of boy bands that climax each show by taking off their shirts turns very surreal. And a sketch in the second episode, about guys doing intense workouts at the gym, is uncannily close to the truth while having an excellent punchline. There's a touch of Baroness von Sketch about that one.

TallBoyz trips lightly through issues of race and misogyny, but never so lightly that there isn't both original humour and the sharp sting of relevant satire. A bit about a black man driving a car and being stopped by the police is both deadly serious and scathingly funny. Occasional forays into mocking TV tropes and clichés don't work as well. All sketchcomedy teams lean toward mocking TV and it's fair game, but not always as sharp as intended.

What's especially refreshing about TallBoyz - there are good jokes about literally being a tall boy, by the way - is that it's not an expensively assembled or lavishly made comedy series. It's rooted in the right-now in Canada and arrives crisp and fully formed. A gem of a new series, based on the first two episodes.

Baroness von Sketch (Tuesday, CBC, 9:30 p.m.) returns for its fourth season and the opening episode is excellent, not a weak sketch in it. Meredith MacNeill does one of her extraordinary feats of physical comedy in one particularly out-there bit. There are some nice cameos, too - the almost ubiquitous Tony Nappo does a great job playing one of those palookas who chats up women on the street.

After that splendid hour of one dazzling new and one returning sketch-comedy show, you can, of course, watch The National on the CBC, which will undoubtedly deliver more election-campaign tomfoolery to make you howl. What great comedy times we live in.


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We need to be better at TV election debates
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Monday, September 16, 2019 – Page A16

There needs to be an investigation. An investigation into the fraud, hoodwinking and hornswoggle (look it up) that going's on in this federal election campaign period.

I refer to the fraud that was the Maclean's/Citytv National Leaders' Debate on Thursday night. That was excruciating. Nobody seemed ready.

Nothing there seemed ready. The studio set looked as though it would soon be used for a paint-store commercial. You know what I mean - it was so off-white, off-yellow bright that somebody would stroll through, wield a paintbrush and illustrate how you make a room where interrogations take place look a little bit inviting.

We have a history of not taking election debates seriously in this country. As though the gravitas needed for a substantial debate was in short supply hereabouts and nobody knows where to acquire some.

Thank heavens the federal government - yes, the current one - established an independent commission last year to organize leaders' debates. The coming official debates organized by the Leaders' Debates Commission have got to be better than the flimsy excuse for a debate that unfolded the other night. The English-language debate (Oct. 7) and the French debate (Oct. 10) will take place at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. That should help with gravitas. Fingers crossed.

Don't get me started on Thursday's TV event. There was a lot of high-dudgeon nattering by Andrew Scheer, Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh about Justin Trudeau not being there. Well, we could see that, actually. We did notice and reminding viewers every two minutes was the sort of stating-the-bloody-obvious that puts people off politicians.

As the debate, such as it was, creaked onward, you could see why Trudeau decided not to attend.

Because it was rinky-dink. Similar to an episode of Adults Campaigning For Office Say The Darndest Things, including the whines, "I didn't cut you off when you were talking" and "I didn't say things that aren't true."

Scheer stood in the middle trying to look serene. He looked taller than you'd think. Listen, people watching this kind of wing-ding on TV are very superficial. They stop listening and wonder how tall Scheer is and why they never noticed before. He knitted his hands together constantly and you had to admire his firmness in never using that smirk, which is his off-putting default facial expression. You can imagine his mom giving him a treat for achieving that, but it would be a very little treat because, as he'll tell anyone, he grew up poor.

Like I said, the perspective can be very superficial at this stage.

May was off to one side, glowering. Singh was on the other side, attempting feistiness like nobody's business. Mostly, mind you, they talked over each other and over Scheer. As a result, nobody got to land the knockout punch that viewers hope for, and the backroom people pray for. It's infuriating, watching a debate descend into a babble of heckling.

Moderator Paul Wells was ineffective in controlling the babble and heckle. Perhaps because it wasn't set up as a genuine debate. It was a stunt.

Part of the stunt was a series of regular interruptions of the leaders heckling each other. A Citytv person presented some nonsense about Twitter and Facebook polling and reaction. Don't get me started.

What's happening on social media during an early debate is a bunch of fanboys and fangirls trolling each other. The Rotary Club was consulted. Who among us has not approached voting in a federal election without wondering, "Where does the Rotary Club stand?" A group of Indigenous leaders, all male, were consulted, too, while the reporter told them they only had a few seconds to speak. Stunt-stuff all the way.

The 2015 election was blighted by the replacement of official debates with a series of stunts. Remember that rigmarole? The Conservative Party said it would not participate in the broadcast-consortium debates and there followed much bickering and confusion.

Obviously we can do better. As a country, as a parliamentary democracy. One hopes those involved in organizing the official debates under the auspices of the Leaders' Debates Commission paid attention and investigated the rinky-dink, gravitasfree zone of last Thursday. Don't get me started.


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If you're looking for America, you'll find it in Country Music
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While perhaps too much his-tory, Ken Burns's latest required viewing traces the history of yet another essential U.S. cultural institution
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Saturday, September 14, 2019 – Page A20

TELEVISION

It was a fella named Harlan Howard who defined country music as "Three chords and the truth" back in the 1950s. For all its catchiness, the pithy label doesn't explain everything. Far from it.

Country music has been among the most daring, imaginative and political cultural currents of the modern United States.

In fact, if you're looking for America, you will find it in Country Music (Sunday, PBS 8 p.m.), Ken Burns's epic, eight-part, 16hour history of the genre. It's there in all its messiness - the contrarian artists, the hucksters, the racists, the corporate-greed thieves, the broken-hearted and the triumphant people who anchored their artistry in their roots in rural America. The tensions between urban and rural are there, too, and the battling sensibilities of the East and West coasts.

It's a grand undertaking by Burns and his team, and it is required viewing. It ain't perfect, though. What Burns does - I've seen all 16 hours - amounts to more his-story than her-story, and it's a bit unduly obsessed with outlaws and rebels, most of them male. Burns has said that, unlike his approach in his previous epic series Jazz and Baseball, he entered the world of country music as an outsider. Like many sophisticates, he probably underestimated and oversimplified the complex social and political meaning of it.

The series (Sunday through Wednesday and the following Sunday through Wednesday) is viscerally rich in music, obviously, and with acres of enchantingly rare archival footage, covers the period from the 1920s to 1996. It ends there because that's when Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, died, and Garth Brooks, the last major figure covered, took country in yet another new direction.

It's a fair decision to map it all out in that timeline. It was in the 1920s that both recording technology and radio took country music out of Appalachia and into the wide world beyond. Before that, of course, waves of Irish and Scottish immigrants to the area had brought Celtic folk music with them, and it eventually fused with elements of black spiritual music to become that unique form of creating, playing and arranging a working people's kind of music. But that's anthropology and not the focus of the series.

What is the focus in the superb opening hours is how "hillbilly music," as it was called for so long, hollered and hymned its way out of a region and, once heard on the new-fangled phonograph, struck a deep chord with people beyond its usual reach. The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers are at the centre of the story.

It makes sense to start with the Carter Family because as the 16 hours roll out, its influence on a vast array of musicians, in multiple genres, becomes clear. From its church-influenced harmonies to Maybelle Carter's unique style of guitar strumming, the clan would have an impact for half a century. By an odd coincidence, the day after the Carter Family made its first recording in Bristol, Tenn., in 1927, Jimmie Rodgers came into the studio and recorded. Rodgers had worked as a brakeman on the railway and performed in travelling shows. He was known for his rhythmic yodelling and the style of the songs he recorded in his short life would be copied by countless singers after him.

The second segment in the series, Hard Times, takes us through the evolution of country music in the Great Depression. That's when radio stations with a huge reach made the hillbilly sound the soundtrack for a despairing people, and the music's power as a force of protest and lament became obvious. While record sales collapsed, radio was the venue for live performances, and from that came the phenomenon that was the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly radio show from Nashville.

How the Opry made Nashville the centre of country music is part of the spine of the story told. But the series - the main writer and producer is Burns collaborator Dayton Duncan - shrewdly uses an artistic-inspiration distinction to trace the evolution. That distinction is between "Saturday night music" and "Sunday morning music," with the latter being the music inspired by what was sung in church pews on Sunday, and the former being the music of drinking and celebrating on a Saturday night.

What was once the influence of church became a kind of conservatism in country music, literally conservative and patriotic, and orthodox in its sound. But, always, out there, were outlaw figures whose swaggering version of country would fill vast stadiums, not church halls.

At the core of the series are some central figures: Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Williams is called "The Hillbilly Shakespeare" for his wonderful lyricism and the wit and cleverness of his songs. Still, it doesn't feel like enough, the time that's devoted to him. He's painted as a self-destructive figure rather than the man in constant pain from spina bifida, which he was.

Key female figures are covered, especially Cline, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. But there are times when the treatment feels grudging, as though it were a vexatious pause before moving on to yet another anguished male rebel figure.

At the same time, a male-centric world is what country music is, or certainly has been. And the series reflects that, perhaps just a bit too obviously. And that impulse toward male-centred mythologizing is part of the history of the U.S. itself. That's one of the truths that comes with three chords. It's one of those faults fully on display in what is, in Country Music, an enthralling and vital reflection on America's heartland and its most significant music.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Preparing for Armageddon (Saturday, CBC NN 10 p.m.) is an odd BBC doc from 2018, profiling people in the United States called "preppers," who are prepared to survive a global disaster.

Presenter Stacey Dooley starts off skeptical and then she asks, "Should we all be following their lead and making plans for a global catastrophe?"


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Netflix will win the streaming wars
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Thursday, September 12, 2019 – Page A17

TELEVISION

Unlike the federal election campaign and the Democratic candidates debates, the streaming wars have no end date in sight. They're just getting started and will go on and on for years.

Tuesday's announcement by Apple that it will launch AppleTV+ on Nov. 1 was long-awaited. Apple has spent vast amounts of money hiring talent and making shows, but when or how we would see the content has been a mystery.

The cost, at US$4.99 a month, undercuts Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, with the latter also launching in November.

This means big choices for the consumer. But it mainly means that Netflix will finally have tough competition. How tough? Netflix is tougher than all the rest.

Note the cost of Apple's new platform reflects what you get. Apple's TV slate is bare bones with big names attached.

Among the originals set to launch on Apple's platform from Nov. 1 are The Morning Show with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and Dickinson, starring Hailee Steinfeld.

And there's See, a sci-fi drama set 600 years in the future when a virus has almost wiped out humankind and left the survivors blind. Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard star in that one.

Also coming is the new creation of Ronald Moore (Battlestar Galactica and Outlander), For All Mankind, which imagines what life would be like if the global space race had never ended.

A drama with Aniston and Witherspoon, set in the morning-TV workplace, is the grabber.

Dickinson is aimed at younger viewers - it adds a "modern sensibility and tone" to the comingof-age story of poet Emily Dickinson.

Apple doesn't have an existing library of film and TV content and is unlikely to buy one. It's going to be small and many consumers won't even pay the monthly fee for AppleTV+, as the company is including it free to anyone who buys a new qualifying device, including an iPhone, Apple TV or Mac.

It sure looks as though Apple is doing what Amazon did - offering TV content as a fringe benefit for loyal Apple customers.

Shortly after Apple launches its TV platform, along comes Disney+, with a vast library to entice subscribers.

Disney has its own animated movies, and Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar films. It kicks off with the enticing original The Mandalorian, a Star Wars live-action drama series and it has a new take on High School Musical along with a large batch of other family-friendly content.

The real battle in the streaming wars will be Disney+ facing off against Netflix. What Apple is offering is an addon service much like niche streaming services Acorn and BritBox offer. (CBC GEM also falls into that category.)

Still looming on the horizon are WarnerMedia's HBO Max and a new streaming service owned by NBC Universal.

Netflix has been in business for more than two decades and been a disruptor streaming service since 2007. Its pitch is easily grasped - all the TV and movie content you need is right there on its service for a monthly fee.

It has spent tens of billions of dollars on acquiring content and creating new series, specials and movies. It isn't going to get the jitters when Disney+ arrives. For years, it has been clear that competition was coming and Netflix's behemoth stature was going to be challenged.

What Netflix has going for it is an already long-established consumer loyalty and dependability. It deals in volume and value for money. The number of Emmy nominations it gets - in 2018 it surpassed HBO for the first time - are mere icing on the cake. The day-to-day business of Netflix is the customer's ability to discover new content it didn't know about. Also, it spends money in acquiring hot and awardwinning cable series after they've aired on cable, a manoeuvre that convinces subscribes to abandon cable and stick with streaming.

There is a good reason why Netflix has played hardball with movie distributors on the matter of Netflix-made movies running in theatres before and during a movie's availability on Netflix. Each of those movies justifies subscriptions. In the end, Netflix is less interested in Oscar wins than it is in keeping and expanding its subscriber base. The movie industry complaining about Netflix is rather like the theatre world complaining that television exists.

Disney+ might look as though it has an advantage. There is a vast existing audience for Star Wars/Marvel/Pixar content. But essentially, you know what you're getting when you pay for that branded entertainment. With Netflix, you get new series such as Stranger Things, which people are talking about the next day, plus enter a space where you find all manner of entertainment you didn't know about before. That's the ace Netflix holds. Don't bet on its decline.


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Air-traffic control in Gander on 9/11: A personal story of unsung heroes
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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

The theatre critic for The Chicago Tribune changed his mind about Come From Away. When he saw it on Broadway, his reaction was lukewarm. But when he saw a touring production in Chicago, he revised his opinion.

The essence of the story finally hit him: "In times of crisis, ordinary human beings pull together and are willing to share what they have with complete strangers."

Fair enough. Good on him for acknowledging a different feeling about the show.

The essence of the story of Come From Away, and what happened in Gander, N.L., on and around Sept. 11, 2001, has become profoundly resonant. (Moze Mossanen's wonderful documentary You Are Here: A Come From Away Story, which you can watch on demand on CraveTV, opens in 800 theatres in the United States this week.) And rightly so.

9/11: Cleared for Chaos (Wednesday, Discovery Channel, 10 p.m.) adds another vital piece to the story. The one-hour documentary special chronicles how the small team of air-traffic controllers at Gander airport handled the unexpected task of landing a vast number of planes. They had the lives of many thousands of people in their hands and they did it with aplomb. With ingenuity and calmness, these unsung heroes fulfilled the mission.

The program works terrifically, first establishing the confusion and fear on that morning. The first voices we hear are the controllers in Gander: "America 49, you will be landing in Gander, now get your plane in line" and "You do not understand me, U.S. air space has been closed." Then we get a short, vivid account of the attacks and decision to get every plane in North American air space on the ground.

It started as a quiet morning in Gander. Dwayne Puddister, who was working that morning, remembers, ruefully, the mood: "There's nothing going on."

Then they knew about the planes hitting the twin towers. And then the phone rang. Gander would be taking in as many planes as it could take, and directing others where to land. At that point, there were three people working there in air-traffic control. When Harold O'Rielly told the others what he'd been ordered to do, he says. "They looked at me like I had two heads."

There are short dramatic recreations - none of them in the slightest bit cheesy - of the staff in Gander having terse conversations with pilots. Some of the pilots wanted more information and were deeply skeptical. There was no time for debate. It was follow-my-instructions, and then get your plane down.

The program includes interviews with the remarkable pilot Beverly Bass - who is a central figure in Come From Away - who landed one of the largest planes that morning. She was already mildly famous as the first female pilot to be appointed captain by American Airlines. Bass remembers that her first impulse was to fly onward to Edmonton. Then, when ordered into Gander, the plane was too heavy to land and she had to organize a hair-raising fuel dump with the help of the air-traffic controllers.

The special also has commentary from a flight attendant working that morning on a plane forced to land in Gander, and with a passenger who was a police officer, who acknowledges he became suspicious of other passengers on the flight. The nerve-shredding impact of the morning of 9/11 is right there, in his memories.

But the program (written and directed by Gary Lang) mostly sticks to that one space at the airport where the airtraffic controllers - properly called Nav Canada's Gander Area Control Centre - knew they were playing a crucial role in what was not only an unthinkable aviation emergency, but a world crisis. They couldn't think about that. They just had to keep on working, focused entirely on landing planes, getting them parked and making people safe.

There's a memorable scene at the end in which the controllers talk of realizing that after the final plane was parked in Gander, there wasn't a single plane in the air over North America. It was a job done, but it was only then that they understood the scope of the situation.

In the years that have passed since Sept. 11, the narrative has become tangled to the point where personal reminiscence blends with almost feverish qualms about how the world changed after. Out of all that has come one strong thread, the one told in Come From Away: About how "ordinary human beings pull together" in a time of stunning crisis. This program adds to that thread and is another reminder of how Canadians reacted. In a way, that isn't a tangled narrative at all.


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Why Succession is now the kind of masterpiece no movie can match
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Tuesday, September 10, 2019 – Page A16

I see that the Toronto International Film Festival is still going on. Toronto's King streetcar moves in a straight line again, though, because the first TIFF weekend is over.

Phew.

But you'll see 11 black SUVs with tinted windows parked in a line on the street. Why? Because of TIFF. Men in dark suits, wearing dark glasses, stand around looking menacing. Security guys and drivers, one assumes. Take a photo, ask anyone what's going on and they'd say it looks like El Commandante is enjoying lunch after the coup d'état while his henchmen wait outside. It's a cinema trope.

Anyway, there is a TV element to TIFF. According to its website, the TV content is there because, "The best and brightest are turning to television to produce original, compelling cinematic content." Well, no. The "cinematic" thing is redundant. This brings me to my point.

Succession (Sundays, Crave/HBO in Canada and Crave ondemand) has become particularly brilliant precisely because it is not in the least bit cinematic. It's must-see, gripping and sometimes horrifying because it often keeps its characters in one enclosed place or another. It typifies what's great about a lot of TV now, simply because it avoids so much that cinema does.

When it first arrived in 2018, the series about the Roy family, a fictional, mega-rich American global-media clan, didn't get the attention it deserved. In part, that's because it seemed to be part of an odd trend - along with Billions, and the FX mini-series Trust (about the Getty family) plus a network revival of Dynasty, it looked as though it was merely part of a faddish fascination with the very, very rich for our entertainment.

It isn't that and it has become vastly superior to the others it was connected with in TV-trend pieces. Its strength is its theatrical quality.

Several episodes in its first season, and the current one, have simply put the central characters in a confining space and allowed them to plot, bicker, argue and attempt to outwit and backstab each other.

After each episode, it is a bit disturbing to realize that among these wonderfully drawn characters, there's nobody to root for.

Executive producer Adam McKay, who also directed multiple episodes, has said this series is about "dynastic congealed wealth."

And that's true, but the "congealed" part may explain why Succession was slow to get a grip on viewers.

In its first season, you could wonder, at first, why we were being asked to gaze at Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the owner of a vast media empire, and pay attention to his children and their spouses. Each was abhorrently maladjusted.

Then, in that first season, Logan was hospitalized and in a coma. The central force of it seemed to be put aside. But with each episode, the battle to succeed him became more palpably intense.

The intricacy of each family member's faults of ego and self-absorption - not to mention their lack of empathy for any other living person - was revealed with remarkable precision. And what became noticeable was how episodes were anchored in set-piece situations.

Often in a hospital waiting room or a boardroom. It was, amazingly, just people talking, that least cinematic of dramatic manoeuvres.

This season, Logan is in full throttle as the Lear-like patriarch. He's itching to buy a rival and more liberal-skewing media conglomerate. (This isn't really a spoiler, there's a lot going on.) And he's willing to do anything to get it, including the repeated humiliation of his children.

One episode was set almost entirely at a corporate retreat.

After dinner, Logan commands his family to take part in a game to test their loyalty and determine if someone has talked to a biographer trying to dig up dirt on him.

It is an act of torture, this game, and unspeakably cruel.

And yet, you watch it as a compelling black comedy and are made to grasp that so often when it's brilliant, Succession is claustrophobic. One little room is an everywhere, as the poet said.

Another episode this season had this plot line - the Roys must spend a weekend with the Pierce family, owners of that other media empire, so that the Pierces can assess the moral fibre of the would-be buyers of their company.

In another series, this twist might be implausible. But here it is to be relished and offers further study of these appalling people attempting to camouflage their awfulness in a restricted setting.

If you've watched it, you will know how well the characters are sharply defined. But beyond the characters and their repulsive qualities, what marks Succession is its propensity for the theatrical, not the cinematic. It would never work as a movie.

No, I haven't seen any movies at TIFF. I'm only kidding about it being annoying. It's just that some great TV is thriving without being cinematic, thanks very much.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019
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The Spy on Netflix: Story of real Mossad agent is startling and intense
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Monday, September 9, 2019 – Page A17

TELEVISION

Sometimes the sheer twisted intensity of a true story carries a series very far.

That's the case with The Spy (streaming on Netflix), a six-parter that's based on the story of real-life Mossad agent Eli Cohen, who went undercover for Israel in Syria in the early 1960s, with spectacular success for a while.

What he did and what he endured beggars belief, but it's all very close to the truth. That gives some heft and shock-value to what is sometimes a rather laboured drama. Another major attraction is Sacha Baron Cohen being utterly compelling in a rare straight-man role as the title character.

After a brief but chilling opening scene that depicts the end of Cohen's role as a spy in Syria, we meet Eli when he's simply an Egyptian Jew living in Israel, happily married (Hadar Ratzon Rotem, who was in the original Israeli version of Homeland, is magical as Eli's wife, Nadia) but alert for social slights against him. "When they look at me they see an Arab, just an Arab" he says to his wife after he's mistaken for a waiter at a party.

He is in fact already a hero, having smuggled Jews out of Egypt to Israel, but hardly anyone knows about that. He's applied to work for Mossad twice but has been turned down. Then, at a pivotal point in Israel's pugnacious relations with Syria, his file lands on the desk of Dan Peleg (Noah Emmerich, who was Stan Beeman on The Americans). With some reluctance, Peleg agrees to train Eli as a spy in a few short months, and put him into Syria, undercover.

It's at this point The Spy looks a bit light on energy and long on conventional depiction of espionage training. Emmerich is excellent as Peleg, but he's an actor who can handle subtlety with ease and things get a tad unsubtle here. Watching him, you might long for more nuance.

Still, it is after this section that Baron Cohen does absolutely revelatory work. He's in almost every scene and he commands the plot with grace and power. Any thoughts you have of his Ali G and Borat roles evaporate. What he's doing here is immensely clever and deliberate - in shifting from Eli, the normal nice guy and loving husband, into Kamel Amin Thaabeth, the Syrian-born businessman, he's doing what actors do. He's not leaving his true self behind but learning to keep it hidden with a kind of ferocity that is gripping and convincing, but takes an incredible toll on the true self.

Feel free to speculate on what Baron Cohen is up to, because he's also an executive producer. By all means extrapolate he's commenting on what he does as an entertainer, embodying those baroque characters he plays. The gist is this: The actor must hold everything together, always, and that's what Baron Cohen does, holding the whole six-part drama together, doing justice to the true story of a man faking it and giving us a master class in acting.

As Kamel, Eli establishes himself in Buenos Aires, where a large expat Syrian population lives and does business. And he meets top officials from Syria who are looking to buy arms. The ease of his entry into the top Syrian military and government circles is astounding, and that's where you need to remember that it's a true story. Then you need to remind yourself that what this lead actor is doing is telling us about the dangerous skills a great actor needs.

While there is a remarkable ease to the spy's move upward into the establishment after he gets to Syria, it's not all easy. There are some who are suspicious of him and Alexander Siddig is excellent as a security guy who oozes a simmering menace every time he gazes at this charming Kamel guy.

You know he's got a nose for detecting acting and he just needs some proof to expose the thespian hiding inside the suave businessman. There is a heavy-handed quality at times to Kamel's fraught circumstance and a sequence in which he encounters one real estate developer named Mohamed Bin Laden could have been left out.

But one understands fully the emotional pull of the sequence.

The Spy was created, partly written and fully directed by Gideon Raff, who created the Israeli series Prisoners of War, which became the basis for Homeland. This series lacks the propulsive quality of the original and the remake and leans more toward the conventional and occasionally lumbering drama. Yet it has great power and an aura about it, based on its emotional mooring in truth. And then there's the feeling of awe as you watch Baron Cohen take a deep, deep dive into the treacherous process of acting, both in real life and as an act of espionage.


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The Victim: Great, grim and gripping British drama
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Saturday, September 7, 2019 – Page A18

TELEVISION If your taste runs to grim, tense British crime drama with a dash of immediate social relevancy, I've got a doozy to recommend.

The Victim (streams on CBC Gem) is a four-part drama drenched in psychological trauma, courtroom suspense and the kind of domestic noir that is particular to the best British and Scandinavian productions. It is also a clever mystery with a coreshaking twist at the end, and it leans heavily into the issue of online vigilantism. Framed as a criminal trial, it leaps back regularly to add meat to the bones of the story in the trial. Set in Edinburgh, it is the trial of Anna (brilliantly portrayed by Kelly Macdonald), who is accused of inciting the attempted murder of a bus driver, one Craig Myers (James Harkness). He was viciously attacked on Halloween when, unknown to him, a social-media post had given his name, face and address as Eddie J. Turner, a man who years earlier had killed a nine-year-old boy named Liam Graham. Turner, being an adolescent at the time, was granted anonymity after serving a prison sentence. Anna is Liam Graham's still-grieving mother.

Leaving the trial, the drama goes back to the attack on Myers and it doesn't take long before it's clear that Anna is the culprit, posting details about Myers online and convinced that when he was a teenager, Myers killed her son. But where did this woman, a nurse, get the information? At the trial, the Crown takes the view it's a case of mistaken identity and Myers is the entirely innocent victim of Anna's obsession.

Leading the police handling of the case is Detective Inspector Steven Grover (John Hannah), who has no patience with Anna's vigilante actions. He listens to her rage - "He's still evil," she says. "I know he is. No one is safe until everyone knows where he is!" But he is unsympathetic. An innocent man was beaten to within an inch of his life because of Anna's interference. As the trial continues, various threads are drawn together. A lawyer suggests DI Grover has problems with strong women. His dealings with Anna seem vindictive. And there is the central mystery - if Myers is not the child-killer then who is he?

The Victim offers many unsettling questions before it reaches a revelation in the last episode.

Even then, it continues to poke at the viewer's conscience and moral compass. The matter of victimhood is presented as mercurial.

So many lives were shattered when a teenager killed a boy years before. In the present, Anna's righteousness looks morally certain and only a police officer's by-the-book intransigence is presented as any kind of counterweight. But as the storyline emerges fully, other victims emerge, too. Anna's daughter Louise is a law student and while at first supportive of her mother, becomes terrified that her legal career will be destroyed. Myers has a wife and child and they, too, are victims of the attack on him.

The series - easily bingewatched in one or two gulps filled with gravitas and tension - has a very strong trio in the lead roles.

Macdonald, best know here for Boardwalk Empire, brings a plainness to Anna's grief and anger.

You cannot feel unsympathetic.

Hannah's gnarled everyman quality is on full display as a cop weighed down by his personal mistakes and Harkness is utterly convincing as an ordinary, hardworking guy thrown into a maelstrom by a smear campaign. The viewer is the jury here, as we are obliged to see that nobody, no matter how much victimhood they carry, is perfect.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Country Music: Live at the Ryman (Sunday, PBS 8 p.m.) is actually a concert that's part of the promotion of the coming Country Music documentary series, Ken Burns's epic, 16-hour history of the genre.

The series is one of the major events of the new TV season and was eight years in the making.

The concert features performances by Vince Gill, Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Kathy Mattea, and others.

Some of them are in the Burns series, which explores a sprawling category of the American culture that was once handily but inaccurately summarized as, "Three chords and the truth."


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Chappelle and Gaffigan: Comedy polar opposites that you need to watch
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Thursday, September 5, 2019 – Page A18

TELEVISION TIFF this. TIFF that. If you're not TIFFing, you're nothing.

Don't get me started on the Toronto International Film Festival. Toronto's King streetcar route is changed for its duration. Honest to heavens, the busiest surface transit route in North America has to go up and around, and this way and that, instead of going in a straight line. Why? Because of TIFF.

You'd laugh, if you weren't on the streetcar cursing away TIFF for making you late. And laughter is our subject today. Not everyone in this great and glorious country is rocking in their heels with childish excitement about film festivals. What loads of people would like is a pleasant hour-ish length of laughter.

Now, there are more stand-up comedy specials on the streaming services than there are movies at TIFF. I draw your attention to two recent arrivals.

One is very pleasant, funny and charming in an oldschool way. And the other is numbskull ranting that many of you may find cutting edge and refreshing, but others will find so tediously coarse that they will run from the room seeking medication.

The two specials are polar opposites and unnervingly so. Never mind TIFF, if you want to understand this polarized world, you must watch both, really.

No matter how unsettling.

Jim Gaffigan: Quality Time (streaming on Amazon Prime Video) opens with Gaffigan saying, "This is what I look like. It's mostly my fault." And you know where you stand with this guy: White, middle-aged dad doing unpretentious observational comedy.

And yet Gaffigan - a reliable late-night chat-show guest these many years - is actually an absurdist in disguise as a regular guy.

He does a rather strange bit that's filled with horse jokes, and then shifts into another voice, telling the audience: "I can see on some of your faces that you would frankly prefer if I did more horse jokes." They wouldn't. He's teasing them to the point of taunting, and he ends one very funny story about encountering a bear in Alaska by hinting that it was all made up, but he's aware of how plausible he seems.

Gaffigan's special was partly written by his wife and directed by her. And you can tell. The comedian isn't allowed to sit in a comedy-content silo of phony male bafflement at the world. The audience is subtly invited to judge him, and that is a good thing.

The laughs come from an earned affability that isn't phony at all.

Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones (streaming on Netflix) is the stand-up's fifth special, part of a massive, multimillion-dollar deal with Netflix. He got the deal because of his well-earned reputation as an incisive, witheringly funny guy, a reliably provocative entertainer. He staked his brand on useful provocation.

Here he continues to provoke, but it's not that funny. Watching Chappelle now is watching a guy who has soaked up the adoration and also memorized every negative remark about his comedy.

What he does isn't really challenging or outrageous.

Unless you think victim blaming is cutting-edge comedy. He sets out to double down on those who have been offended, especially the gay community.

What's really fascinating - though not amusing - is the cocky tone of the poor-me act Chappelle has going now. He starts by reminding people that Anthony Bourdain, who had had one of the best jobs in the world, killed himself. He goes on to claim, as if there was a connection, that it's "celebrity hunting season." People like him and other comedians have never had it so bad, apparently. You see, there's all this stuff about sex with minors and offending the LGBTQ community.

He defends Kevin Hart and he defends Louis C.K.

In an already notorious segment, he heaps scorn on those who accused Michael Jackson of abusing children. It's a long rant and he has zero sympathy for the victims. Zero. Chappelle's schtick is that he is now a one-man truth-telling machine, a corrective to the #MeToo movement and a foul-mouthed scold of victims. From the vantage point of fabulous wealth and fame, he's a destroyer of hypocrisy while, of course, embodying hypocrisy in his every crass utterance. It's a precarious position to occupy and far from entertaining.

Yet it's creepily relevant. It's like spending an hour online reading all those trolls who sneer and sneer. Humanity can be disgusting. Or brilliantly amusing. There, we've all learned something, without going near TIFF.


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Biden is on Colbert and the real U.S. political season starts here
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Wednesday, September 4, 2019 – Page A17

TELEVISION

Former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden will be on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Wednesday night (CBS, Global, 11:35 p.m. ET). It's his first late-night appearance since announcing his presidential campaign in April.

His absence from the late-night arena is a bit odd, since his rivals, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and, among others, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, seem to be ubiquitous figures there, chatting away with Colbert, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel.

But Biden has his own strategy, which is largely about being above the fray. Now, with summer over, the actual fray starts getting serious and Biden is getting serious, too.

Getting elected to national office in the United States is largely a matter of managing the theatre of television, airing TV ads and using social media strategically.

Some are good at it, and some are hopeless. You can tell that Beto O'Rourke just isn't cut out for a national campaign.

What Biden faces now is real scrutiny.

He's leading in the polls and is a moderate, but all the cool kids, plus Sanders and Warren, want to be socialists. He's in a tricky position, and the unspoken narrative of the next while - the one that might be spoken about a lot, later on - is about Biden's downfall.

Biden's tactics border on the bizarre in the age of Donald Trump.

He and his team have balked at responding to Trump's vitriol on Twitter.

He ignored a wave of criticism about his hugging-and-touching style of engagement with others.

His gaffes about names and dates raise a mini-storm of outraged reaction that dissipates into nothing.

Biden himself seems mystified about the outrage. His view is that he meant well and therefore he deserves some slack.

Mind you, those gaffes have led to a sustained thread of jokes by late-night comics about his age and lack of sharpness.

Not long ago, Colbert made fun of Biden's habit of making reference to something his father said to him: "He used to say, 'Son, the Vikings are coming for all of us, and they will end this village.' " That's the hole that Biden needs to plug by finally going on late-night TV and reminding the audience and the mockers that he's not that ancient at 76 and can be self-deprecating about his acuity and occasional conflations of truth and fiction.

Right now, Biden's campaign is riding entirely on his electability.

He's just released a TV ad in Iowa (easily found online) that is startling in its plainness.

There is footage of Trump and of white nationalists marching. The narrator intones, "We know in our bones this election is different. The stakes are higher. The threat more serious. We have to beat Donald Trump. And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job."

There is footage of Biden with Barack Obama and Trump is called "an erratic, vicious, bullying president."

There isn't much to it. It has one central message - there is no point in voting for someone else, someone not guaranteed to beat Trump on election day.

The next Democratic debate is next week, on Sept. 12, and airing on ABC.

It will further winnow the field and make it clear who Biden actually faces as real rivals.

His status as the only plausible candidate is at stake. The lineup and podium order are already available and being closely studied. Biden will be in the centre with Warren to his left and Sanders to his right.

It already looks like terrific drama is coming, and it will be three hours long, compared with two hours in each of the first two debates.

The debate will be the first time that Biden, who was battered in the first debate and uninspiring in the second, will face Warren in such a forum.

Warren, Sanders and Biden are all in their 70s, but Biden's the one who looks and acts like it.

He's the butt of jokes that actually undermine him.

That's why he's springing into action and doing the rounds of the late-night shows, at last.

If, that is, at 76 he's actually capable of springing into action.

Late-night jokes will determine the outcome of that question and, as it stands, Biden needs late-night appearances more than any other candidate.


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Watch this gem: The great, doomed love story of The Beautiful Lie
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Monday, September 2, 2019 – Page A12

TELEVISION

When the powers-that-be at the CBC came up with a name for its streaming service, they called it CBC Gem.

Not an ultrainspiring name, you'd think. But as it turns out, the service has some real gems in its library.

The Beautiful Lie (CBC Gem) is a stunningly good drama series from Australia, and heartily recommended.

The six-part series is about doomed love. How do we know it's doomed? Because it is a modern adaptation of the central story in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, set in modern, upper-middle-class Melbourne.

Me, I was taken aback by it; especially the visceral emotional weight of it.

And then there's the excellent cast, with the (doomed) lead played by Sarah Snook, who is familiar as Siobhan (Shiv) Roy, the dangerously mercurial daughter of media mogul Logan Roy on the HBO series Succession. She's wonderful here as the Anna-figure who falls hopelessly, ecstatically and tragically in love with an unsuitable younger man.

It's addictive, this thing, and you need neither a weakness for stories of doomed love, nor knowledge of Tolstoy's novel to savour it.

In the novel, the married minor aristocrat Anna departs her husband's house to help save the marriage of her brother Stiva.

He's been unfaithful to his wife, Dolly, with one of the servants.

In The Beautiful Lie, Anna (Snook) is a retired tennis star, a minor celebrity married to another former tennis star Xander (Rodger Corser).

On hearing that her brother Kingsley has slept with the au pair, and his wife, Dolly, is about to throw him out, Anna flies in to try to bring calm to the situation.

Kingsley is a bit pathetic and a bit remorseful. Dolly is angry but willing to forgive. These are all decent people compromising and trying to maintain a stable life.

On her way to her brother's home, Anna sits next to a stranger on the plane. The stranger tells Anna about her son Skeet (Benedict Samuel), a young musician.

When Anna meets Skeet at the airport, he stares at her and she stares back at him. Does he stare because he recognizes the former tennis champ? Not really. And why does Anna stare back? Is it because she feels she knows him from his mother's stories?

The matter is settled in minutes because they witness a death as they leave the airport.

The fragility and brevity of life is revealed to them. They are, in an instant, spectacularly in love, lust and capable of shattering everything around them to indulge this furiously passionate attraction.

And shatter they do. Skeet has just become engaged to Dolly's younger sister, Kitty (Sophie Lowe), and as Anna is there to comfort Dolly, she witnesses the engagement party. Kitty, who is young, a little naIve but terribly in love with Skeet, intuits that he's fallen for Anna.

Her rage and despair are terrifying, and signal some of what will unfold for Anna and Skeet as they begin an erotically charged affair that hurts everyone around them. How doomed is it all? You don't need to have read Tolstoy's story because, as Anna says in the opening minutes, in a few years, she will be dead.

What's deeply impressive about The Beautiful Lie (it's in six parts and you can binge-watch it easily) is that what might be a fairly predictable, soap-like narrative is given texture and emotional heft, not by pumping up the melodrama, but by draining melodrama from it.

There's an exquisite, quiet subtlety to the performances and even to the filming, much of it done with hand-held cameras that linger close to the characters and thereby make them human, ordinary and far from ominously tragic figures. You feel like a flyon-the-wall in these comfortable Melbourne homes, observing privileged people who simply have common human weaknesses and strengths.

Now, those who know the Tolstoy novel well might quibble with some elements of this adaptation.

While, at times, the series does a remarkable job in mirroring the original story, in the novel Anna falls for Vronsky, a dashing, handsome and wealthy man. In The Beautiful Lie, the Vronsky figure is Skeet, who is more the brooding, lackadaisical type.

What this Anna sees in this Vronsky-Skeet is his powerful, youthful intensity.

For all that quibbling, the series is a rare find, an adult drama that is disarmingly honest about selfishness and the emotional self-immolation that engulfs some people at a certain age.

The central love story is gripping enough, but you care, too, about the figures around Anna and Skeet, those family members trying to hold on to what they've got.

The Beautiful Lie landed here without much fanfare. There are few Australian series, as far as I know, that match the quality of prestige cable dramas we see regularly.

It did run on Hulu in the United States for a while and all I could find in advance was a short review in The New York Times.

That one called it "gorgeously addictive," which is true, and also said, "Think The Affair, but actually good." True too.

Trust me on this one - the series is a true gem, a delicately lyrical love story reverberating with all the enchantment and agony of an amorous infatuation.

Associated Graphic

The Beautiful Lie follows Skeet (Benedict Samuel) and Anna (Sarah Snook), top, in a forbidden and doomed romance, as Anna is already married to Xander (Rodger Corser), above left, and Skeet is engaged. CBC


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Satirical drama pokes holes in the American dream
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On Becoming a God in Central Florida combines bleak comedy with pyramid schemes and a harsh reality check
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Saturday, August 31, 2019 – Page A18

TELEVISION

Television is engaged with this time of alarming political and social animosity better than most fiction genres.

That's a fact and we should be grateful for it.

At regular intervals along comes a series that has less a pure entertainment agenda than a plan to poke around between the lines of great storytelling and sociological insight. That usually requires emphatic characters to have any traction and a view of the world that is darkly comic.

These series usually feature strong, ambitious and non-stereotypical female characters at their core.

On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Sunday, Crave, 10 p.m.) is one such series and boy does it have an emphatically tough, rounded woman in the central role. It's about many things, but the Showtime-made, piquantly sour comedy is mainly about American dreams, fallacies and deceit, both personal and societal.

It is also terrifically entertaining, twisted and, at times, moving.

(Catch the first two episodes ondemand on Crave and savour the third on Sunday.)

Set in the early 1990s, the drama is really about Krystal Stubbs (Kirsten Dunst), a struggling mother, former pageant queen and wife to insurance salesman Travis (Alexander Skarsgard, unrecognizable from his role in Big Little Lies). The couple are at the bottom, barely making ends meet. Krystal works at a water park doing menial jobs. Travis, however, has big dreams. He's under the thrall of a pyramidscheme company called FAM. After listening to countless motivational cassettes and being bamboozled by his FAM mentor Cody (Canadian Théodore Pellerin, who is terrific), Travis is deluded into thinking he's one step away from great wealth.

What he's actually got is a house full of unsold FAM products and a wife who is deeply anxious and harried. Early on, Travis makes an ostentatious departure from his day job, things go terribly awry, and Travis departs this mortal coil. From there, you might expect Krystal to become the spunky widow of familiar movie entertainment, rescuing herself and her young daughter with pluck and clear-eyed determination.

Nope.

After a series of incidents in which Krystal realizes no amount of pluck can rescue her from the deeply cynical world in which she exists, she decides that FAM is her way out. Hardened, knowing and her naiveté evaporated, she sets out to exploit the system that left her near-penniless and at the absolute bottom of the social ladder.

What Krystal realizes is that everything is a lie - especially the idea that the average American can be wealthy and secure through hard work, salesmanship and grit. FAM is a scam, just as the country is, and you have to be beyond ruthless to succeed.

As such, On Becoming a God in Central Florida is satirical and often outrageously, bleakly funny.

But it is Dunst who holds it all together. This is stunning work from an actor with a solid movie career behind her. And you realize how superficial those movie roles were. In a recent interview, Dunst said, "I've never been recognized in my industry. I've never been nominated for anything. Maybe like twice for a Golden Globe when I was little and one for Fargo.

Maybe they just think I'm the girl from Bring It On." Well, her work on this series is one of the best of the year on TV. Awards nominations should flow from it. You can't take your eyes off this formidably complex, cutthroat and unappeasable figure she plays.

The series has had a tricky road to completion. Created by Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky, and counting George Clooney among its executive producers, it was to be made for YouTube, when the platform had a plan for offering major scripted content. But YouTube backed away from that strategy and it landed at Showtime.

(Canadian Esta Spalding is producer/showrunner on it.) Now it stands as one of the top series of the year, one of those prestige cable dramas that will live in your head forever. It's that strange and good.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Halston (Saturday, CNN, 9 p.m.) is a repeat of one of those more substantial CNN studies and it looks at the life and career of the fashion designer Halston, born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa. For a time from the mid-1960s through the 1970s his name was up there with Chanel, Dior and Valentino. He put a pillbox hat on Jackie Kennedy and his sensuous, flowing fabrics dressed a parade of movie and music stars for years. Then, it all went wrong: A massive deal to mass-merchandise his name for JC Penney diluted his brand and his personal life was a mess.

Stop Your Aging (Sunday, CBC NN, 10 p.m. on Passionate Eye) is a repeat of a nifty study of new ways of looking at the aging process. All such programs must be taken with a pinch of salt - but watch that sodium - and among other things it promotes dancing rather than repetitive gym exercise routines. Enjoy.

Associated Graphic

Kirsten Dunst stars as Krystal Stubbs in On Becoming a God in Central Florida, a sour comedy that follows a single mother as she tries to exploit the pyramid scheme that made her penniless.


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Trump has beaten the late-night comics into baffled resignation
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Tuesday, July 30, 2019 – Page A13

TELEVISION

On Tuesday night, CNN has its first Democratic presidential debate, at 8 p.m., with another one on Wednesday evening. Ratings for last month's Democratic debates on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo were excellent, signalling a significant public interest.

Another signal that the political debates are a boon to the TV industry in the United States is the impact on the latenight shows. On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert on CBS, Seth Meyers on NBC and Trevor Noah on Comedy Central (Comedy Network in Canada) air live shows to feast on the Democratic debates on CNN. Usually, their shows are taped in the early evening.

The emergence of leading Democratic presidential candidates is important to the late-night hosts and their writers.

Because, really, they are all starting to look defeated by Donald Trump's presidency. Where once there was savage indignation and searing jokes, there is now mere shocked-andappalled exasperation. The more outrageous Trump behaves, the less funny it becomes for Colbert, Meyers and the others.

A few weeks go, Trump issued one of his stunning tweets when he attacked a group of Democratic congresswomen of colour, demonizing them as foreign-born rabble-rousers who should go back to the "broken and crime infested places from which they came." There was almost universal consternation, since Trump ignored the fact that the women are American citizens and all but one was born in the U.S.

How the various late-night hosts reacted was very telling.

Several fell back on jokes about Melania Trump and her alleged status as disgruntled wife, a nearprisoner in the White House and of course, foreign-born. On Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host simply said that Trump was "out of his mind again" and showed a clip of Trump telling reporters that the congresswomen should leave the U.S. if they don't like living there.

Kimmel then joked, "As soon as he said that, Melania started running to the airport."

On The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon joked that Melania Trump asked, "Hey, how come they get to leave?" Then came an interesting moment. "I don't know what's more shocking," Fallon said, "that the President sent a racist tweet or that we won't be talking about this in two days." That garnered a very muted response from the studio audience. Fallon looked at the audience and simply said: "Too real? Okay."

That's the thing - as Trump hones his racist invectives for the 2020 election year, he becomes "too real" for the latenight comics. It is increasingly difficult to mock, with any sense of humour, what is undeniably disgusting.

Trump had issued his go-back tweet on a Sunday and reiterated his comments on Monday. This gave the late-night shows ample time to prepare their satiric ammunition. Yet, by Monday night, Colbert was reduced to snarling at the camera: "If someone is leaving this country, it should be you! And if you're looking for a new home, might I suggest that you go to hell!" Meyers declared, speaking about the congresswomen: "This is their country and they are treating it with a lot more respect and devotion than the racist gargoyle who sits around tweeting from the back nine of his chintzy golf course."

It all amounts to a kind of baffled umbrage. For years now, Trump has provided the late-night comics with tons of corrosive comedy material that has a cathartic impact for the audience. Now, he's making them deeply uncomfortable because it's difficult to be funny when the comic and the audience are actually unnerved by the President's tweets, statements and behaviour. Just as Trump instinctively browbeats opponents with ever-increasing derision, the enlarging and expanding of his race-based attacks has beaten down the late-night comics. There are times, such as the occasion of his go-back statements, when the lot of them look conquered. It has become too real.

In September, there will at last be a new voice in late-night.

A Little Late with Lilly Singh comes to NBC, airing after Meyers.

The Canadian-born Singh, a massive YouTube star, will be the only woman of colour on late-night network television, an arena dominated by white men. Maybe she'll have a refreshing take on current events and Trump, or maybe she will avoid the topic. In the meantime, the existing late-night comics are desperate for material offered by the Democratic presidential debates.

Trump has overpowered them, as he had done to so many others.

And with that I leave you for a break of a few weeks. Be nice to each other and enjoy what you watch. I'll be back at the end of August.


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Netflix's The Great Hack is the great warning about your data
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Monday, July 29, 2019 – Page A12

TELEVISION N ow, me, I'm not paranoid, I'm just peculiar. Or just careful, depending on your slant.

One late afternoon this past winter I was out doing myriad errands in my neighbourhood. I noticed a new coffee shop had opened. I decided to go in, consume a hot drink and warm up. I ordered something and was looking at my handful of change when the young woman behind the counter told me, loftily, "We're cashless, cards only!"

I pleaded innocence of this and said I only had cash. "Since it's your first time, I'll give you the coffee if you put some change over there," she said, directing me to put two toonies as far from her as possible. At this point, the eight customers there were staring. "Oh my God," they were thinking. "A guy who doesn't have a debit card." I don't, actually. After the coffee shop I bought stuff at the drugstore and answered "No" to the inevitable question about having a points card.

Very peculiar these days, I know.

But, the data on me are limited.

The Great Hack (now streaming on Netflix) is about data. The object of legal threats in Britain, the documentary is visually stunning and it's part thriller and part exposé, but mostly it's a resounding warning.

The warning is about how deeply precious your data are.

Only a fool would be unaware that the data we give up while shopping or browsing online, or to Facebook and Twitter, are used to sell us things. But it would be ultrafoolish to be unaware how personal data are hoarded and then used to remake and remodel the political landscape.

Maybe you're sick of hearing about Brexit and how Facebook was used to manipulate minds during the U.S. election of 2016.

Well, brace yourself, because there is still a lot to learn, and those two political events are the focus of The Great Hack. It's a sprawling story with intriguing characters and at times it's a mess of confusing allegations and stories, but its main point is always there - personal data are treasured, and we're just giving it away, rarely reading the terms and conditions, because we think we're just having fun.

The essential thread follows Professor David Carroll, of Parsons School of Design in New York, who wanted to find out what personal data of his were held by certain companies. This leads into the intricate web of the company Cambridge Analytica using data gleaned from Facebook in the battle over the Brexit referendum in Britain; what journalist Carole Cadwalladr found investigating Cambridge Analytica; the emergence of young Canadian Christopher Wylie as a whistleblower; and the revelations about the Trump campaign using Facebook to target "persuadable" voters.

We see dramatic footage of raids by Britain's data protection watchdog, emotional exposition at a parliamentary hearing in London, and into this cauldron of confessions and revelations steps the most mercurial character of them all. That's Brittany Kaiser, who worked for Cambridge Analytica on the Brexit issue and on the Trump campaign. Not that long ago, Kaiser was a volunteer working on the Facebook page of Barack Obama. More recently, she was co-operating with the Mueller investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election and alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia.

At 31 years old, Kaiser is a walking, talking conundrum. In the doc she's mostly interviewed while she's at an exclusive resort in Thailand. Her motivations are always unclear. She says she wants to go back to the good-anddecent work she once did, but it's hard to tell if this is a personal wish that will always be outstripped by her professional need to win on behalf of clients who want to undermine democracy and smash traditional political institutions.

One reaches the end of the documentary (made by co-directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer) with a strange mixture of anger and melancholy. What once seemed cool about the internet seems sleazy. What you might remember as bafflement about the Brexit issue now becomes rage. And still, there is the final realization about data: Many people have only themselves to blame - they give up information without thinking of the consequences. After watching it, it doesn't seem peculiar at all to be paranoid.

Associated Graphic

The Great Hack follows a data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and the firm's role in both Brexit and the 2016 Trump campaign. Brittany Kaiser, top, worked for Cambridge Analytica on both issues.


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What to watch before summer's end: 2019's best TV so far
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Saturday, July 27, 2019 – Page R1

TELEVISION

It's past midyear 2019, and it's time to assess. TV across multiple platforms has been good, often great. Nobody can watch everything, so crowded is the field. But it's time for a handy catch-up list.

This list is not the definitive best-of scorecard. It's what you need to see now, in the summer, if you missed it. And it's a diverse list - some serious-minded content, some fun and some overlooked gems. All are available on streaming services, specific online sites you might need to subscribe to or on demand from cable outlets. Choose your nourishment or escapism, and enjoy.

AFTER LIFE (NETFLIX) Infuriatingly difficult to define, it is by turns outrageous, uplifting, unflinching, sad, hilarious and angry. Mostly, it's an exercise in melancholy, and I adored it.

Ricky Gervais plays Tony, a middle-aged man who is surly, rude and suicidal. Why is he in this state? His wife died, that's why.

Tony watches videos of his late wife, Lisa (Kerry Godliman), who gave him detailed instructions about everyday things, such as feeding the dog and using the dishwasher. But not how to live a new life. He's hopeless in his grief - and angry. Then, he isn't.

After Life really divided viewers.

It's that different.

CHERNOBYL (CRAVE/HBO) An instant classic of great TV, it's a hard watch - and not only because of its grim, realistic depiction of what happens to those exposed to radiation.

It's tough to consume because it's not just about the notorious nuclear disaster. It's about the relentless campaign by those in power to deny mistakes, deny the existence of chaos and harm, and then spread misinformation. That part of it is as intense as the frightening dramatization of the first hours of the nuclear disaster at a town in Soviet Ukraine in 1986. Jared Harris is magnificent as a nuclear physicist who knows the truth. A miniseries that will linger in your mind a long, long time. (Note: HBO shows are available to Crave subscribers on demand, and through some cable on-demand services to HBO Canada subscribers.)

FOSSE/VERDON (FX) Ravishing, demanding and one of the great depictions of life in the performing arts. The non-linear storyline that flits back and forth over several decades of showbizlife triumphs and failures persuades you to care deeply about Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell), the celebrated New York choreographer and film director, and his on/ off relationship with the great dancer and actress Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams), a woman who was Fosse's often unaccredited collaborator and muse. It's about love and hate and collaboration and the damage done by ego and success. (Look for FX Now Canada online and subscribe. It's also on demand on cable if you subscribe to FX Canada.)

BREXIT (CRAVE/HBO) A blistering take on the referendum that brought the Leave campaign a narrow victory in Britain's vote on EU membership. The movie isn't fiction - it's about the real figures that pulled off the upset victory. Mainly, it's a lethal farce that becomes chilling. It focuses on Dominic Cummings, the "geeky analyst" who called the tune in the Leave campaign, and he's played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

He's brilliant as the neurotic, arrogant geek who, it turns out, knew how to manipulate gullible voters and social media. The tone seems flippant at times, but in its comedy it has soul-destroying perceptions about the weakness of traditional institutions. Watch right to the closing credits.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (NETFLIX) High-grade escapism with some lovely scenes and performances.

It's a different kind of take on the whole superhero thing. And, being made in Toronto with a large cast, it also features many, many Canadian actors. The two lead roles are played by famous Canadians and a small army of local actors turn up in supporting roles.

Also, the use of Toronto settings, in what is a highly stylized and gorgeous production, is stunning.

Rarely has the city looked so splendid. The starting point for the surreal story is in 1989, when 43 babies were born to mothers who were not, as far as anyone knew, pregnant. Seven of them were gathered and raised by an eccentric billionaire, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), who trains them as "The Umbrella Academy" to fight crime and suchlike.

FLEABAG (AMAZON PRIME VIDEO) The series - two seasons available - is acclaimed for its unique, assertory candour and wit. And part of the surprise element is the central character, the young woman known as Fleabag, breaking the fourth wall. It's a theatrical device rarely used effectively in TV, with the notable exception of the original version of House of Cards. In Fleabag, the woman's frailties, urges and rages come straight from her mouth while she's looking you, the viewer, in the eye.

That female-centric bluntness is a rarity on screen and that's where the show's power and shock value lie.

RUSSIAN DOLL (NETFLIX) It's fiendishly clever, this very binge-worthy creation by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland. It is about virtue and mortality, and it's delivered with a vicious sense of pungent humour.

It's a brace-yourselves, genrebreaking journey. At first, it feels like another variation on Groundhog Day as Nadia (Lyonne), an acid-tongued, chain-smoking woman celebrates her 36th birthday. This celebration happens over and over, but as the layers peel back it's less about this woman than it is movingly about her community and her mother.

WHEN THEY SEE US (NETFLIX) Superbly made, startling in its invective and bluntness at just four episodes. The point of the title is that nobody actually saw the boys who became known as the Central Park Five, as who they were.

They saw black youths and wanted to convict them for the rape and assault of a female jogger in Central Park. The swift movement from the conviction to imprisonment to justice being served is deeply impressive. But this is not presented as a story to feel good about in the end. It invites you to be very angry.

BLACK SUMMER (NETFLIX) This is an overlooked little masterpiece of the zombie-apocalypse genre. Don't be put off by "zombie apocalypse." It is not like The Walking Dead or any of its spin-offs. It's formally brilliant, politically loaded, terse and terrifying. No less than Stephen King recently took to Twitter to point to it and call it, "existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone." The stripped-to-the-bone element is one reason why it's breathtaking. Some episodes are 20 minutes long. Others come in at about 45 minutes. Dialogue is often sparse and the pacing is relentless.

BARRY (CRAVE/HBO) The second season of Barry is even more darkly funny and shrewd than the first Emmy-winning season was. It's still a comedy and a twisted-assassin drama, but it has Barry (Bill Hader), an ex-soldier and hired killer who longs to become an actor, trying to put his assassin life behind him. He tries to set aside the darkness of his real life even while the other budding actors around him remind him daily of the pleasures of pretending. Henry Winkler almost steals the show as the bewildered acting teacher Gene. There are magnificent scenes that are so astute about the politics of showbiz and acting.

DAS BOOT (CBC GEM) The eight-episode series (in German, French and English and with English subtitles) is more of a sequel than a retelling of the original movie's narrative. About half the storyline is set on land. And that's what makes it at first intriguing, especially to anyone who knows the movie; then it becomes a first-rate, top-drawer wartime thriller. It's set in 1942 in the German-occupied French port town of La Rochelle. The German navy is rapidly building and launching more U-boats. Too many are being lost because the Allies can find and destroy them, or mechanical failure is making them useless. A radio operator on a new boat involves his sister in his secret spying activities and a hornet's nest of resistance and thuggery is stirred. (Find CBC Gem online and sign up.)

PEN15 (CBC GEM) An underappreciated gem from Hulu - and picked up by CBC Gem - this odd and sometimes incandescent comedy follows a pair of 13-year-old best friends starting middle school in the year 2000.

Co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play adolescent versions of themselves. Every other youngster on the show is played by an actual teenager. This is cheekily emphatic, but it's not a gimmick. There is a dissonance, seeing them in the roles, but also a heartfelt lugubrious quality. Rarely has the maddening insecurities of being a teenager been so ably mocked but utterly understood with sympathy.

NOTABLE MENTIONS: Sex Education (Netflix) was much misunderstood by some critics. An eight-part drama/comedy, it's saucy and sometimes absurd, but ultimately it's a deeply felt coming-of-age story. The main character, teenager Otis (Asa Butterfield), is finding his way through life and love at a British school, with advice from his mom, Jean (Gillian Anderson), a famous and divorced - and nowdating - sex therapist. It's very brazen and deadpan.

True Detective's Season 3 (Crave/HBO) is not the incisive, disturbing masterpiece that was Season 1, but it's very, very good.

It's done with great precision and perceptiveness. It broods again on moral decay, the fragility of memory and the elusiveness of verifiable truths about events that are soul destroying - in this case the disappearance of two children and murder of one of them. Arkansas state detective Wayne Hays is played with a rare, thrilling confidence by Mahershala Ali, who won best-supporting-actor Oscars for the movies Moonlight and Green Book.

Save Me (CBC Gem) is a knock-out Canadian short-form series. Each episode comes in at about 10 minutes and some are remarkably dense for all the brevity.

A wry, sad take on the strange traumas that can befall anyone.

Knock Down The House (Netflix) is starkly cogent. The doc set out to follow four women who were challenging incumbent Democrats in the primaries ahead of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

They didn't all get elected, and, as the whole world knows by now, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the one who seemed to embody the entire unlikely movement. What you see when you watch this doc is not adulatory or fawning. It's a rousing story about ordinary people rising up to challenge establishment figures and aiming to change establishment politics.

Associated Graphic

Asante Blackk stars in the superbly made When They See Us, a four-episode series about the boys who would become known as the Central Park Five. It may end with justice, but it invites you to be very angry.

Jared Harris, centre, seen with co-stars Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson, is magnificent as a nuclear physicist in HBO's instant classic, Chernobyl.

The politically loaded Black Summer, starring Jaime King, is far from traditional 'zombie apocalypse' fare.

In the fourth-wall-breaking Fleabag, creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, seen with co-star Brett Gelman, brings a rare female-centric candour to the small screen.

PEN15 features co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle as adolescent versions of themselves.

Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll.

Henry Winkler in Barry.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Brexit.


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Robert Mueller: Man of integrity, terrible on TV
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Former special counsel's testimony, in which he was withdrawn and unsure, proved to be a disappointment for Democrats
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Thursday, July 25, 2019 – Page A5

Call it the big mistake.

The televised theatre of U.S. congressional hearings and testimony is a particular arena in which the winner provides concise sound bites and uses sincere, savage indignation to have impact. Anyone who expected Robert Mueller to be a winner in that arena on Wednesday, or offer a win for the Democrats, was delusional.

Reticent, withdrawn and careful, all Mr. Mueller's testimony did was validate the other side. That's a cruel assessment, you might think, given the man's age, integrity and a handful of his forceful pronouncements, but television is a bloody cruel medium.

It was mind-numbing, all of it.

There was a nine-person chinwag on CNN in the pause between Mr.Mueller's two testimony appearances on Wednesday. Near the end, Jeffrey Toobin asserted that there needs to be more testimony from persons named or cited in Mr. Mueller's report. He wants to hear from former White House counsel Don McGahn, he wants to hear from former Trump campaign operative Corey Lewandowski and others.

Hearing that, the heart sinks like a stone. More? More of this muddled, maddening prevarication, deflecting, boasting and accusatory blather?

At 8:33 a.m., when Representative Jerry Nadler banged his gavel and opened proceedings, the 74year-old Mr. Mueller looked for all the world like a chap on a day pass from the old-age home where he enjoys dozing and occasionally waking up for sundowners. He was a little dazed, sometimes confused; in the partisan, often hysterical battleground that is now U.S. politics, you could almost hear the mass sigh of disappointment on the Democrat side.

On CNN, Jim Sciutto offered the opinion that, "Mueller was no made-for-TV guy." Preach.

This was supposed to be a major TV moment. Coverage was at a fever pitch on Wednesday. All of the major U.S. broadcast networks had wall-to-wall coverage, and all of the major cable news networks did the same, adding pre-, post- and mid-testimony news and analysis.

By 10:05 a.m., at the time of the first break - which Mr. Mueller looked like he really, really needed - Fox News was gloating. Chris Wallace, possibly the least partisan of Fox News pundits, declared, "This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller." He was correct. Badgered by fast, aggressive questioning from such Republicans as Representative Doug Collins and Representative Ken Buck, Mr.Mueller was reeling. If this were a boxing match, the referee would have shut it down early. The Republicans were landing jabs at Mr.

Mueller's head and body continuously.

Of course it matters that Mr.Mueller confirmed that U.S. President Donald Trump was not exonerated, that his team was never going to indict Mr. Trump as a sitting president and that Mr.

Trump could be charged with a crime after leaving office. Just as it matters that the Trump White House set out to discredit Mr.Mueller, that he was not seeking the FBI director job as Mr. Trump has claimed and that he confirmed there were several episodes of possible obstruction.

But the impact of all that is diluted. "The finding indicates that the President was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed," Mr. Mueller said. That's too vague, too lofty and too arcane for this arena.

Bound by his own adherence to the written report and only that, and bound by reminders of boundaries from the U.S. Attorney-General, Mr. Mueller was left with, "I can't answer that" or "outside my purview" in response to countless questions. Worse, his hesitations and what looked like memory lapses suggested he did not have full dominion over his own report.

For two years, the Robert Mueller imagined by the public and thought-up by late-night talk-show hosts was a sort of combo of legal Rambo and Boy Scout superhero. When he finally emerged on Wednesday into the full glare of the TV cameras, he was an elderly man, full of integrity, but unsure of his footing on so many issues. In the contemporary political culture of ferocious verbal attacks and ceaseless evasions and dishonesty, his integrity and reticence seemed both innocent and feeble.

Nobody fears the feeble on TV or in politics as they play out on TV, social media and in these wicked times we live in. The mockery of Mr. Mueller that was unleashed on Fox News was, for once, accurate and a fair and balanced judgement.


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How low will CBC TV bosses go in search of ratings and ad dollars?
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Wednesday, July 24, 2019 – Page A16

My friends, it's time for a resistance. Specifically, a resistance against the direction that current management is taking CBC TV.

First came the news that CBC TV is investing heavily in the advertiser-friendly game show Family Feud Canada and bringing back the reality show Battle of the Blades. That's bedrock commercial TV stuff, a craven move to get ratings and ad dollars. It's fine, as long as the fluff is balanced by a plan to air substantial material. What CBC executives like to call "cerebral" content.

Was Canada pining for the return of Battle of the Blades? Were there torch-lit processions in towns and cities that I didn't hear about? Nope. The show was done before and can be done again. That's what commercial TV executives do when they're desperate for ideas.

The desperate search for ideas recently became a very public issue when The Globe and Mail revealed that the bosses of The Fifth Estate had proposed a series of programs on the crimes committed by Paul Bernardo. Negative reaction from inside and outside the CBC was swift. And in its corporate reaction, CBC TV has been oddly defensive.

The very notion of a series focusing on Bernardo gave this country the creeps and understandably so.

It's a repulsive idea.

What the program proposal raises is the question of values at CBC TV. What moral compass do these CBC bosses have when it comes to balancing the need for a ratings win with the moral sensibility of this country? The health of a society, in a physical, mental and moral sense, can be measured by the actions of its publicly funded broadcaster. CBC likes to trumpet the fact that it is a trusted brand in Canada. Well, trust isn't easily achieved, but it is easily broken.

There is no doubt that CBC TV has suffered a financial blow, with a substantial decline in advertising revenue in recent years. Every traditional media company has - and CBC TV is a traditional linear broadcaster - and most people would respond with "Cry me a river." Newspapers have seen ad dollars flow to Google and Facebook. Commercial TV has seen viewers flee to streaming services that have no advertising.

Everybody impacted is obliged to adjust, to refocus and build on strengths. CBC TV's approach, it seems, is to go low in search of a ratings win and more ad dollars. With this proposal to use The Fifth Estate as a vehicle for a series about Bernardo, CBC TV looks like it's gone rogue.

That's what we can extrapolate and it's what we need to resist. But we are all just looking for clues, searching for patterns among remarks made by CBC TV executives and strategy documents seen by this newspaper.

Among those clues is an internal document - obtained by The Globe's Simon Houpt - citing previous true-crime explorations of the O.J. Simpson case and the Lorena Bobbitt case as examples that a Bernardo series would emulate. There are several things CBC TV bosses should keep in mind.

First, Simpson was found not guilty. Second, his trial unfolded in the initial, intense wave of tabloidTV in the United States. Third, there was a significant race issue, uniquely playing out in the U.S.

(The most cogent examination of the Simpson case came in FX's drama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, created mainly by Ryan Murphy.

With all due respect, there is no one of Murphy's genius at CBC TV or in Canada.) Fourth, the Bobbitt documentary series for Amazon Prime Video was about Bobbitt as a victim of domestic abuse and sexual assault. And specifically, how the case was viewed in that very same intense wave of tabloid-TV in the U.S.

Put all these points together and only one truth emerges: We are not the U.S. This is Canada and CBC TV exists to inform and entertain Canadians. While we share cultural tastes with the U.S., we do not necessarily share a media history, or indeed a moral compass.

This might be useful time to remind CBC TV executives that while the broadcaster is a curious hybrid of public and commercial outlet, it is not a mirror image of other Canadian commercial TV. Those who would like to remake CBC TV on a model that mainly involves importing U.S. content and ideas, are in the wrong job. This is Canada and when CBC goes low, we resist.


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The moon landing eclipsed the suffering in Northern Ireland
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Tuesday, July 23, 2019 – Page A13

TELEVISION

This month, we're marking the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.

Man walked on the moon; the whole world saw it. It is celebrated now with reams of nostalgic memories about a great feat of technology and the marvel of a remote horizon reached.

Also this month, for anyone who cares to remember, we mark the 50th anniversary of the first deaths in the Northern Ireland Troubles. This latter fact is why I have no personal nostalgia for the lunar landing.

I'm sure it was on TV. I'm certain of it, actually, but I have no memory of it. The event was barely noticed that week, that day, because we were engrossed in events on this planet, in our part of the world.

At every major anniversary of the lunar landing, I'm obliged to recall how irrelevant it seemed, and that recollection is an acute reminder that the challenges we face on the ground where we live have abated little. We worship technology even more now, but there is still rampant divisiveness, racial and religious hatred, inequality and masses of people on the move, trying to escape violence and poverty.

The day after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, there were riots in Belfast, not for the first time that year. What I saw on TV in stark black-and-white was footage of Catholic families fleeing their burning homes in the night, driven out by sectarian violence. I remember footage of a woman clutching a picture of the Sacred Heart as she ran, her face rigid with fear. The sounds on the TV were wailing sirens, weeping children and hatred being screamed.

When the Apollo 11 mission was launched, I was 11 years old and we were living in Carrick-on-Shannon, a small town in County Leitrim, and a short distance from the border with Northern Ireland. We had three TV channels. There was RTE (the Irish state TV), the BBC and Ulster Television. For an 11-year-old, I was watching a lot of news on TV. We all were. The mission to the moon was mentioned, of course, but it wasn't a preoccupation or a marvel.

From the start, 1969 was a brutal year. On the first of January, a group of civil-rights protesters, People's Democracy, set out on a march from Belfast to Derry. Among the issues they were highlighting was "one man, one vote." At that time in Northern Ireland, only ratepayers - property owners - and their spouses had a vote in local elections. The poorest, who were mostly Catholic, who did not own the property they were living in, did not have the right to vote.

Worse, their landlords, if they owned multiple properties, had multiple votes.

On Jan. 4, on the outskirts of Derry, several hundred people, Protestant Unionists who saw their privilege being undermined by an uprising and, perhaps, the Union with Britain under threat, attacked the marchers. Police did little to intervene. The report on TV included a cameraman with blood pouring from a wound in his head.

The march had been modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1966, which had been seen on TV in Ireland and everywhere. Week after week, the tensions mounted and violence filled the TV screen. In April, there was rampant rioting in Derry after the police reacted to a protest by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association with baton charges and the searching of homes. Police beat a man who had taken no part in the protest severely in his home.

He died of his injuries in July, a week before Armstrong walked on the moon.

Soon after, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland resigned and the man who replaced him mobilized the police reservists, known as the B-Specials, to maintain order.

The B-Specials were mainly hardline Protestant Unionists. Mayhem ensued. Catholics living in Protestant areas were forced from their homes, their houses firebombed as they fled. All the three TV stations showed on their news were chaos, violence and hate. Three weeks after the lunar landing, the Irish Prime Minister went on TV to address the situation. He declared, "The Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse." It sounded like the threat of an invasion of Northern Ireland. Instead, the army of the Republic of Ireland set up field hospitals along the border to take care of people fleeing the violence. On moonlit nights, we didn't look at the moon to gaze in wonder that American astronauts had landed here. We looked out for battalions of the Irish army heading for the border. By the end of August, 1969, British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland to restore law and order. In December, 1969, the Provisional IRA was formed to launch a violent campaign against British security forces.

Fifty years later, there are uncanny echoes of that year. The hard Brexit that Boris Johnson is inclined to introduce, if he feels it necessary, would restore that border that preoccupied us in 1969, and would undermine the peace agreement that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. There are demagogues everywhere now, as full of hate against others as those demagogues who enflamed Northern Ireland. People flee violence in country after country.

Putting a man in the moon was a mere distraction, a fool's errand, and it doesn't bother me that I have no memory of it.

What use was it?


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Something stranger, and funnier, than Stranger Things
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David Harbour mocks self-serious actors in Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Saturday, July 20, 2019 – Page A16

Now then, if you watched Stranger Things you might think that you got the strangeness of it all, with the chicanery of scientists at Hawkins National Laboratory, an unknown dimension and plus-sized monster.

Not so. You want peculiar and strange in the sense of strange being idiosyncratic, then one of the stars of Stranger Things has a doozy for you. You'll laugh; you'll frown; you'll be very, very puzzled.

Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein (now streaming on Netflix) is a work of stupendous weirdness. It's an elaborate experiment and it's a very good elaborate joke. It's a gorgeous joke about acting and about ego, and it slides from silliness into vicious satire.

David Harbour, who plays Chief Jim Hopper on Stranger Things, plays a fictional version of himself and informs us that he's researching the life and work of his late father, the fictional David Harbour Jr. (also played by Harbour). He says he found lost works by his father, while in his mother's attic and battling rats. Turns out his father, like his grandfather (also played by Harbour), was a great man of the theatre, but as times changed, he went into "the noble experiment of producing plays for television."

Right, well. We see much of one play, which is some wonky version of the Frankenstein story.

That's Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein. It is very stiffly acted. Harbour of course plays Dr. Frankenstein, and there's his young assistant (Alex Ozerov), and a young woman (comedian Kate Berlant, who does a brilliant turn as moonfaced dumb fool) who is there to figure out if this Frankenstein thing is worth investing in.

The play turns inside itself when Harbour the elder starts giving acting lessons to the young assistant. This part is hilarious, an exquisite bit of hammy tomfoolery. Meanwhile, Harbour the younger is interviewing people about his dad's work and showing footage of his father being interviewed. Then, back in the play, there's an ostentatious running joke about the theory of Chekhov's Gun in theatre.

Along comes Alfred Molina playing an alleged acting great Aubrey Fields, who does a stage show explaining the techniques of acting. Also, we see the older Harbour doing TV commercials.

These are clearly meant to send up Orson Welles at that point in his career when he was peddling wine on TV. Further, back in the play, an elderly woman appears from upstairs and announces, "I like the morphine."

It is indescribable, this Netflix special. Coming in at about 35 minutes, it's unique. It's more than a sketch and more than a comedy doodle. It's a ludicrously knotted send-up of the craft of acting and a near-hallucinatory mocking of the seriousness that actors place in hokey, blood-andthunder work.

Principally, it's hilarious. As it winds down, it also turns into a nonsensical murder-mystery.

The elder Harbour was not a nice man, it turns out. And, yes a gun does go off, adhering to Chekhov's theory. It is nothing like Stranger Things, by the way. Except that there is a monster. Although you might not notice because you're too busy laughing or asking, "What the heck is going on here?"

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND The Moon Landing (Saturday, CBC NN, 10 p.m. on The Passionate Eye) is a new doc that promises "surprising details" about the Apollo 11 moon landing. These include near-disasters that almost derailed the end of the mission and Neil Armstrong getting rid of the trash on the space rocket. Bisbee '17 (Sunday, most PBS stations, 10 p.m. on POV) is a startling, excellent doc that examines, in a visceral way, what happened in a mining town on the Arizona-Mexico border a century ago. What happened was the deportation of 1,200 immigrant miners. They had unionized and were members of the Industrial Workers of the World and they were on strike. The strikers were forced onto trains and dumped in the New Mexico desert with a warning to never return. In the doc, local people help to stage recreations of that controversial part of their past.

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David Harbour is at the centre of Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein, an elaborate and ludicrous joke now streaming on Netflix.


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The terrible beauty of the Tain
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In the weekly series The Enthusiast, The Globe and Mail's writers offer a window into their own private cultural lives: what they're watching, reading, seeing and listening to. This week, John Doyle revisits an Irish epic
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Saturday, July 20, 2019 – Page R2

When I was young and foolish, I got lost in a labyrinthine story about the stealing of a cow and all the repercussions and ripples emanating from that. These ripples involve much fighting, poetry, sex, armies marauding through the night, unrequited love and the emergence of a godlike warrior whose death comes while upright, lashed to a stone, his enemies waiting until a raven lands on him.

The story is the Tain Bo Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) and it is the bedrock of Irishlanguage mythology. It's a great, epic tale and it is central to Irish culture. It is also maddening in its meandering, cockeyed in its ceaseless naming of places and worship of physical strength and astute in its insights into greed and false heroism. When Game of Thrones arrived a few years ago, I was not one of those people instantly smitten with it. It seemed a pastiche, inauthentic. I knew a more uproarious and thrilling tale. Game of Thrones has nothing on the Tain Bo Cuailnge.

The epic tale, part of the Ulster Cycle of stories, exists in fragments and is based on three ancient manuscripts from the 11th to the 14th centuries. It is partly in prose and then erupts into acres of elated and elaborate poetry celebrating nature and feats of war. It is Ireland's rough equivalent of Virgil's The Aeneid.

It begins, if there is a true beginning, with pillow talk after canoodling. Maeve, queen of the province of Connacht, is sparring idly in bed with her husband, Aillil. Now, Maeve is both a sexual goddess and the boss, voracious in her appetite and a forceful leader. She married Aillil because he's easygoing and not given to jealousy. She needs that in a fella.

They begin to count up all their possessions. It turns out, to Maeve's ire, that her husband has something she doesn't: a white bull named Finnbhennach. Outraged, she tells her messenger MacRoth to get a gang of her soldiers together and find a bull more powerful than Aillil's.

They do. They travel to the land of the Ulster cattle baron, one Daire mac Fiachna. He has a famous bull, the Donn Cuailnge, the Brown Bull of Cooley. He agrees to loan it to Maeve for a year so it can sire a successor.

Thing go awry when Maeve's men get drunk and boast that they could have simply taken the bull. A furious Daire declares the deal is off.

Lets pause here. How did I get lost in all this? Well, when I was a lad, in 1969 there appeared a new translation of the Tain by poet Thomas Kinsella. The publishers went all out and commissioned Irish artist Louis le Brocquy to illustrate it. The result is stunning: Kinsella's muscular language, which rescues the story from an earlier version that offered it as cute fairy-tale myth, is enhanced by le Brocquy's simple, beautiful but macabre drawings of events in a primitive, prehistoric world.

The artist himself said it: "It is as shadows thrown by the text that they derive their substance." It was the most important book published in Ireland in a generation, an imaginative reshaping of a cultural touchstone into a fiercely contemporary context. Even as a kid I knew that. Kinsella's dynamic description of Cuchulainn's travails is, in part, this: "The first warp-spasm seized Cuchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream."

So, in the story, Queen Maeve is now even more furious and organizes an army of supporters to overrun Ulster and abduct the bull. Here, the Cattle Raid of Cooley is truly under way. The men of Ulster are regrettably under a curse put upon them by the goddess Macha. She has inflicted the pain of childbirth on these men because they abused a pregnant woman - there is a lot of female rage in the Tain - and it will last for months. The only fella who is immune and can fight the invading Connacht army is the young, godlike Cuchulainn. They call him the Hound of Ulster.

Now Cuchulainn is introduced in a series of passages that are rhapsodic in their description of his physical strength. He is bigger, better, bolder and more fierce than any man alive. But courteous, too, and likes to play by the rules. In any case, he begins to fight back and does things like kill a hundred soldiers a day, no bother on him.

Eventually, he agrees to fight Connacht one enemy at a time, and these individual fights go on and on. Maeve, meanwhile, has to use all her skills to persuade her best fighters to meet Cuchulainn alone. She offers them sex with her daughters as part of the package.

Day after day, Cuchulainn defeats each opponent until he meets Ferdia, his friend and foster brother. The battle is long and brutal and for Ferdia it ends in death. Cuchulainn weeps that it has all come to this, this mad war. The upshot is that the Brown Bull of Cooley is taken to Maeve's land and fortress. But upon meeting the white bull, Finnbhennach, the two begin to fight. Their battle rages over miles and miles, until both die.

The origin of all this war, sacrifice and savagery is negated; after all that, both bulls - the catalysts for all the carnage - are dead.

Another pause here. In mid-1970s Ireland, when I was a bit older and given to appreciating rock music, the Irish band Horslips released a sort-of concept album, The Tain. To describe Horslips as "Celtic rock" would be inaccurate. They were Irish rocker-artists giving traditional music a kick in the posterior.

They were huge, this band, and their cultural influence is still discussed in academia today.

With The Tain, they distilled the entire elaborate epic into short stories, some of which are asides in the main epic. MacRoth is in love with Maeve, they've been lovers, and he is stuck in melancholy jealousy of Cuchulainn's brawn. "I travel Ireland in a day/You just nod, I'm on my way/I've golden wings upon my feet/I seldom touch the ground/ The only thing I'm not/Is faster than the Hound." With one piece, Dearg Doom (Red Destroyer), they encapsulate Cuchulainn's fury and might, amping up an ancient tune, O'Neill's March, into a searing rock guitar riff. The music was used for Ireland's theme song at the 1990 World Cup and is still heard in the dance halls of Ireland to this day. The album cover, with its fist in chain mail, is considered iconic, a small masterpiece of representation.

Since then, by the way, a new translation of The Tain by poet Ciaran Carson was published by Penguin in 2007. It's peculiar but piquant how an ancient myth can have so may ripples and repercussions and enter into a country's bloodstream, decade after decade, again and again.

Back in the story, with the two bulls killing each other, there ends officially the Cattle Raid of Cooley, with its moral about the futility of fighting over possessions. But Cuchulainn's story isn't over. In his many fights, he killed a man with a pregnant wife who had the power of sorcery. She gave birth to sextuplets - three boys and three girls - all gifted with strange powers. They set out for revenge on the Hound of Ulster. Through trickery, sorcery and flattery they persuade the great warrior into a fight.

They strip him of his strength with necromancy. (There's a side story about the goddess Morrigan refusing to protect him too, because he had rejected her advances.) In the end he dies, having lashed himself to that stone so he will not fall before his enemies, while onlookers wait until the bird sits on his shoulder, telling them he is finally dead.

A bronze cast, The Death of Cuchulainn, by Oliver Sheppard, has stood inside the General Post Office in central Dublin since the 1930s. The GPO was the site of the Easter Rising against British rule in 1916, which eventually led to an independent Ireland. Millions have seen it, passed by it: a warrior in death, refusing to fall.

Its presence is an act of continuity with the ancient, brutal past chronicled in the Ulster Cycle of stories, of which the Tain Bo Cuailnge is central.

The bronze cast is less a commemoration than an acknowledgement that a country's, a culture's narrative is there, in one long labyrinthine story that starts with the stealing of a cow.

And what we learn from it, as I did, is the terrible waste that tribal conflicts bring, no matter the beauty of their telling.

Notes: The Tain: Ulster rises from its pangs is used with the permission of The Estate of Louis le Brocquy. Website: anne-madden.com/LeBPages/lebrocquy.html The cover of The Tain is used with the permission of Horslips.

Website: horslips.ie The music of The Tain by Horslips can be found on Spotify.

Associated Graphic

A statue by Oliver Sheppard depicts the Cuchulainn, the mythological Irish figure who features in the Ulster Cycle, of which the Tain Bo Cuailnge is part.

STAIR NA HEIREANN/HISTORY OF IRELAND

The story of Tain Bo Cuailnge remains an integral part of Irish culture that inspires literature, art and music to this day.


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Emmy award nominations are as weirdly preposterous as ever
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Wednesday, July 17, 2019 – Page A13

TELEVISION

If you think there's something odd about the list of Emmy nominations announced on Tuesday morning, there is. It looks oddly out of touch.

Each year, one looks at the Emmy nominations with raised eyebrows and maybe a little sputtering of, "What, what ...?" This year, more so than usual.

To qualify for the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards, a program must air between June 1, 2018, and May 31, 2019. First, take note that the eligibility period covers the traditional, old-school broadcast TV season. Second, take note that this means that recently airing, sensationally good series such as HBO's Euphoria are out of the running until next year. Same goes for current seasons of The Handmaid's Tale, Big Little Lies and Stranger Things.

The Emmy Awards are always a bit preposterous and this year doesn't disappoint in outlandishness. Game of Thrones set a record with 32 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and 10 separate acting nominations.

"But, but," you will say, the final season of GoT, the one nominated, was castigated by fans and critics for being half-baked in execution and often harebrained in plotting. Exactly what is getting the acclaim here? Probably old memories of old seasons.

The Emmy Awards list is not a guide to the best TV of the year, not now and not ever. You knew that, right?

In the big picture, and the continuing battle between Netflix and HBO, this round goes to HBO.

The premium cable channel has 137 nominations for this year's Primetime Emmy Awards and Netflix drew 117. Last year - you must remember last year - Netflix topped HBO with 112 nominations to 108. That was the first time since the year 2000 that HBO didn't have the most.

Netflix is still trying to be HBO, but it isn't succeeding. It has power, but not artistic legitimacy.

With about 40 shows to be considered for an Emmy this year, Netflix chose to push three at academy voters - Ozark, Russian Doll and Bodyguard. They succeeded in getting those three in prestige categories, but only Russian Doll can be considered an artistic triumph, a work of great TV storytelling and a drama with serious intent. Both Ozark and Bodyguard (the latter already in production for BBC TV when Netflix came on board) are slick and great entertainment, but both are derivative.

One bizarre anomaly from last year is fixed. In 2018, Sandra Oh became the first Asian actress nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Emmy, for her role in Killing Eve. That was dandy and much celebrated.

But Killing Eve is emphatically a twohander and Jodie Comer was shockingly ignored for her role as the outrageous Villanelle. This year, both actors are nominated together, as they should be.

But, but, wait - of course there are preposterous snubs this year. Let's talk Fleabag.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge's dark comedy is a critical fave and a huge cult show for Amazon Prime Video. It'd be refreshing to see it in the Comedy Series category and there's a lead actress nomination for Waller-Bridge. Plus it has two supporting actress nominations (for Sian Clifford and Olivia Colman), and yet, more in two guest actress spots for Kristin Scott Thomas and Fiona Shaw. The snub is the lack of recognition for Andrew Scott, the key male character in the season. Was it because he's just called "the Hot Priest" on the show?

In the same Comedy Series category, you'll find Schitt's Creek, which airs on Pop in the United States. Its presence is largely down to its ubiquity on Netflix. (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara are also nominated for it.)

Academy voters tend to favour shows easily accessible on streaming services rather than small, niche cable channels.

Some recent critical attention to the show, which originated on CBC, also helped, with the consensus being that later seasons are far, far better than earlier ones.

In the most prestigious and culturally important category, Drama Series, it is Better Call Saul (AMC), Bodyguard (Netflix), Game of Thrones (HBO), Killing Eve (BBC America), Ozark (Netflix), Pose (FX), Succession (HBO) and This Is Us (NBC).

If there's justice, the award will go to Pose for what it is; one character described it as "a gathering of people who are not welcome to gather anywhere else, a celebration of a life that the rest of the world does not deem worthy of celebration."

At least it's nominated and that's noteworthy, not preposterous at all.


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The real strength and meaning of Stranger Things 3 lies in female empowerment
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019 – Page A13

TELEVISION

There's a new slice of sci-fi silliness starting Tuesday. It's Pandora (Space, 8 p.m.) and it's set in 2199, when Earth and alien planets have formed an alliance. Main character Jax (Priscilla Quintana), a tough-but-vulnerable young woman, starts a new life at Space Training Academy. Turns out she's either the saviour of the universe or its worst nightmare.

Whatever. It's derivative, silly and mind-numbingly stiff in execution. Jax is far from engaging, although she's meant to be. Given the sci-fi context and the presence of murderous monsters, it makes you think of Stranger Things 3. Okay, well I did.

Now there's a show that on conclusion, you can say, takes a distinct new path with its young female characters. (I'm summing up events and themes here, so there are spoilers. Beware reading on if you haven't seen it yet.) It's not revolutionary; the show's strength is its charming depiction of youth, and it's not overtly advocating for anything. But it was once a bromance about endearingly geeky boys and one inscrutable girl. Now it isn't.

The first theme to note is that several female characters are essentially oppressed at home or at work, but their strengths are unleashed when part of a gang, or community, of younger people.

And when they're under threat together.

Most of the female characters are obliged to have a high tolerance for being patronized or ignored. The enthralling Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), on whom so much depends, has to live under the strict rules of minder, stand-in dad Hopper. He's a very controlling, old-school male. There is the near-requisite scene of Eleven going to the mall, getting her own clothes and makeover, and promptly dumping her boyfriend. There's a teeny-bop silliness to that kind of empowerment. But when the monsters come and everybody, including the entire town, is in danger, it's El who has the power to save everyone.

There's Nancy (Natalia Dyer), who lives through unspeakable sexism at work at the local newspaper. But out of the workplace and investigating on her own, doing what the men at the paper can't be bothered to do, she cracks the case, gets to have revenge on her horrible boss and she's the one who fires the gun at the brainwashed Billy (Dacre Montgomery), who was a bully to begin with.

New character Robin (Maya Hawke) is the most galvanizing figure on the series.

We meet Robin working at the Starcourt Mall ice-cream shop Scoops Ahoy! Mainly she mocks co-worker Steve (Joe Keery) for his attempts to pick up girls. That's pretty much what he thinks he's good at. Then, when things get serious, Robin is the one with the linguistic smarts who can crack an intercepted Russian code. She leads the gang on a dangerous mission and stays resolute. The scene in which she comes out about her sexuality to Steve is the most memorable of this season, more powerful than anything featuring ravenous monsters. Robin has no special power and no deep nerdiness. She's just a very capable young woman.

Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) has spent two seasons being told by men that she's exaggerating or imagining things. In this season, she's presented as distinctly correct about most everything and abandons the role of worried mom to help bring down those no-goodniks with terrible power over her town. She plays a key action role in the final episode.

The promotion of tiny Erica (Priah Ferguson) is also an interesting move. Her role at first seems to be conventional sassy-mouth little sister, quick with the insults. But in Stranger Things 3, she steals episodes entirely with her droll command of the situation and very adult perspective.

There has been some criticism of this season of Stranger Things, mainly about it being on the slow side even if it's just eight episodes. Some say it takes too long to get to the climactic battle in the final episode.

But what's happening is a more characterdriven drama. More of these characters are women, and time is being taken to grow and empower female figures.

There's no huge cultural shift happening here. What the show's creators, the Duffer Brothers, have done is pull back from a boy's adventure drama and present female characters who are at first lacking agency and then given plenty of scope to flourish in all their strength and smarts.


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Grantchester: Not the usual soft and pretty British periodpiece drama
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Saturday, July 13, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

British period-piece dramas have a singular cinematic style: sunlit, clean and heftily romantic in the picture they present of the past. Things were better then, is the gist. This is how Brexit happened, you think. And you'd be right. There's a pulsating nostalgia thing going on.

Grantchester (Sunday, Masterpiece on PBS, 9 p.m.) has stuck with a slight variation on that format through its three seasons, and now in its fourth, it pushes back at boundaries. It's a way-interesting, but not necessarily successful defilement of the solemn protocol. Recommended viewing, though, as a strange little skirmish with contemporary reality.

As fans of the genre will know.

Grantchester is set in 1950s England and it's about Sidney Chambers (James Norton), a clever, charismatic clergyman who solves crimes in his copious free time, usually alongside one Geordie Keating (Robson Green), a salty police officer. This all unfolds in the tiny town of Grantchester, which is very sunlit and clean. Based on the mystery novels by James Runcie, it feels cozy and if you weren't paying close attention it could make you feel sleepy.

Pay attention, however, and it seethes with something that smells subversive. Turns out that 1950s Cambridgeshire is a rather vile place full of wicked people. In earlier seasons there were hints of this as Sidney turned sleuth. Now, having dealt with his rage and lust and essentially been heartbroken, Sidney wants out. He wants out of his job as a clergyman and wants out of the pretense that he does a good and important job.

Not only is he changing, but England is.

In its fourth season, the plot is baroque in its summoning of contemporary England into its setting. There is immigration happening, you see. People of a different skin colour are arriving and there's a backlash against that.

Along with his cop-buddy Geordie, Sidney witnesses a terribly racist and incendiary uprising.

The season opens with Geordie lamenting how things are changing. "I blame that fella with the pelvis," he says , and the impact of rock 'n' roll is emphasized when Sidney and Geordie give chase to a guy while Long Tall Sally plays on the soundtrack. A black civilrights activist is in town and that only seems to increase tension.

Things get worse when a young white supremacist begins spreading his hate. And, thing is, he's using the bible to do it. Things get sticky when there's a murder to solve and then even stickier when passion is ignited in Sidney by a visitor from the United States.

Safe to say, things do not go well on either front.

While there is still a softness to Grantchester, there is a sharp tension under the surface. Vicar Sidney is a representative figure, trying to do the decent thing, always, but it's the congregation that baffles him and makes him despair for humanity. He's no innocent, this man of the cloth, but a troubled figure. Norton is great in the lead role, although, it seems he will leave the series soon, and the interactions with Green's Geordie are wonderful.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Two good documentaries are repeated. Running With Beto (Saturday, Crave/HBO, 9 p.m. and ondemand) is an HBO documentary that chronicles former congressman Beto O'Rourke in his 2018 long-shot attempt to wrest the Texas Senate seat held by Ted Cruz. As such, it's a warts-and-all portrait of the lanky young man.

Yes, he's charismatic and fiercely hard-working, visiting all 254 counties in the state, but he's lacking something, you can tell.

Documenting Hate: New American Nazis (Sunday CBC NN, 10 p.m. on The Passionate Eye) sets out to expose the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis involved in that 2017 Charlottesville rally, and achieves that. Most ominously it shows us how entrenched the white supremacists are.


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Civilization is safe: Love Island bombs in the ratings
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Thursday, July 11, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

There was a lot of fuss about Love Island arriving on CBS and CTV on Tuesday evening. Tons of promotion and much lip-smacking anticipation from people who follow reality-TV shows obsessively.

The first reaction one felt - that's me - after watching the opening episode was fear; fear that these people would be released from that resort in Fiji and allowed back into society. When that happens, the continuing anxiety about the death of our civilization can be put away. It's just going to happen. We will be left with nothing.

"Brace yourselves, America, get ready for love, lust and some very tiny swimsuits," narrator Matthew Hoffman said as the wretched thing began airing. Right.

Well, the giddiness of CBS and the Canadian carrier CTV about the series is understandable. In a business context, anyway.

The show has been a big hit in Britain every summer for five years. People are glued to it. It's a national pastime apparently.

Like Brexit, Boris Johnson and the popularity of the "sport" of darts, some things about Britain just beggar explanation.

Thing is, nobody in America cared much. It didn't brace itself. It just shrugged and watched something else. The initial overnight ratings for Love Island on CBS are abysmal. At 8 p.m., the show was third, with a dismal 2.9 share, well behind America's Got Talent on NBC and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Fox. By 9 p.m., viewers had fled. The upshot was just 2.7 million total viewers and a 0.6 share. A week earlier, in the same time slot, that old reality-TV warhorse Big Brother had 4.5 million viewers. On Tuesday, NBC's America's Got Talent had 9.6 million.

Phew. Love Island will continue every weeknight on CBS and CTV for a month, but it seems nobody will care. And I'll tell you why.

First, it reaches a level of obnoxiousness that is too close to what the United States knows as actual "reality." It's Trumpian in its juvenile viciousness, posturing and shallowness.

Sure, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are shallow, too. So is Big Brother. But Love Island turns shallow escapism into a repugnant fatuity that all too eerily echoes its political culture.

It all hinges on the way the cruel fandango starts. Female contestants are introduced and paraded in swimwear. Alana, Elizabeth, Alexandra, Mallory and Caroline (known as Caro). Oh, that Caro, a 21-yearold marketing student. She told us she has "recently just started loving my hair." Mallory has "saved photos of my wedding dress, the venue and the rings on Instagram," she explained. "I have it all planned out," she said. "I just need a guy."

And what kind of guy is ultraprepared Mallory looking for? "Ideally, with John Mayer vibes."

Along came the guys, alas not one of them giving off a John Mayer vibe. They are Cashel, Yamen, Michael, Weston and Zac. Abs galore, these chaps. All sixpacked and coiffed for a night at a club, yet posing in a beach setting. The ladies line up, in swimsuits and high, high heels.

When a guy is introduced, a woman attracted to him steps forward. The guy then announces which woman he is attracted to. It's humiliation central.

The kicker is the introduction of the spoiler figure. Up stepped Kyra. (Actually, she flounced in slow motion up the beach.) The group was told that Kyra would have the opportunity to "couple up" with any man she chose in the villa.

This means she steals a guy from one of the other women. Kyra started flirting with several guys. The other women began whispering and shooting dark looks at her.

It's all so crude. Both women and men used the phrase "not my type" often.

That's what Donald Trump says in dismissing a sexual-misconduct allegation by a woman. Like Caro, Trump is in love with his hair. In the context of the contemporary U.S. culture, it's all just creepy.

The appeal of reality TV has been evident for years now. Rough-hewn people, filled with assuredness and not much else, can be compelling on TV. They stand in contrast to fictional figures played by actors.

Their "realness" is dubious, anchored in bluster and bravado, and sometimes just in their cockeyed opinions. Just as opinion-spouting populist politicians can stand in stark contrast to more sophisticated figures. Thus, the reality-TV phenomenon infected politics and eventually led to Trump, a reality-TV star from The Apprentice, being elected.

With Love Island, a circle is completed.

The obnoxiousness of those people on Survivor and The Apprentice, from a decade ago, was galvanizing. Love Island heightens the awfulness to a level where the crudeness is starkly illuminated for all to see.

Viewers just aren't comfortable with it. It, too, brazenly approximates a Trumpian culture. And if viewers are repulsed and not watching, maybe civilization is saved.


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Conversation ender: Aziz Ansari's careful comeback special on Netflix
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Wednesday, July 10, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

Aziz Ansari feels guilty, grateful, angry, ashamed, bewildered and chastened. He's quite funny about some of these emotions. Not so funny about others.

Little wonder. Last year, he was accused of sexual misconduct. A young woman - she was 23 and he was 35 - wrote on a website that a date with Ansari had gone very wrong, from her perspective. She felt he had acted coercively when they engaged in sexual acts and had ignored her signals that she didn't want sex.

His response was that he was "surprised and concerned," that he "took her words to heart" and he responded privately to the woman.

The matter was a conversation stopper.

Coming after multiple misconduct allegations against powerful men in the entertainment industry, the young woman's story raised issues about the undertone, nuance and subtleties of how men engage with women. It was described as an issue only twentysomethings could really grasp fully.

There was a Saturday Night Live sketch in which three couples try to talk about the Ansari allegation. None of them can really articulate what they feel. Every time one character started, someone else said "Careful!" or "Watch it!" The conversation went nowhere.

It certainly looked like Ansari's career was going nowhere. The actor, writer and comedian was lumped with Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. as representative of a toxic male culture. But also cited as someone who had merely behaved poorly on one date. It was complicated. He eventually went back to doing barely publicized stand-up shows, specifically to deal with the matter and the culture in which it erupted.

Aziz Ansari: Right Now began streaming on Netflix on Tuesday, without much notice. Little wonder about that, too. Rather than promote and discuss it in advance, Ansari and the streaming service let it speak for itself.

It does, and opens with the comedian addressing the matter directly.

Speaking in a low voice - everything about this special feels casual and low-key - he says this: "I'm sure that some of you are curious how I feel about that whole situation. And, uh, it's a tricky thing for me to answer, 'cause I've felt so many things in the last year, so. There's times I've felt scared. There's times I've felt humiliated. There's times I've felt embarrassed.

And ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way. And after a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward. It moved things forward for me and made me think about a lot. I hope I become a better person."

It's a carefully worded statement. Note that there is no outright apology. At the same time, he doesn't dismiss the allegation against him, or try to be funny about it. What he does could still be a conversation stopper for many people. Some would say Ansari did nothing remotely like Weinstein or Bill Cosby. Others would say there's no grey zone into which Ansari's actions can be parked, or that he's not contrite enough.

What the comedian does is march with some gusto into the state of America. Specifically about, "people trying to out-woke each other." He finds the hypocrisy of people hilarious and he's scathing: "At least racists are brief. Woke people are exhausting." He's got a very personal take on matters of race and cultural appropriation.

"Things don't become racist when white people figure it out," he says. And one of his driest remarks is this: "The first Indian person I saw on MTV was ... me!"

He also riffs on the stupidity of people who think races should only date and marry each other. He points out that people literally expect him to be dating Mindy Kaling. There's an excellent segment in which he points out that the behaviour of singer R. Kelly was happening in plain sight for years. But only when it was packaged into an easily digestible documentary series for TV, did it get a lot of attention. In the matter of Michael Jackson, he is terrifying blunt and outraged.

What he's doing, really, is confronting the confusion of the culture and how that confusion led to his situation becoming an impossible matter to discuss with reason and clarity. It's a very clever construct - his disenchantment with a society in which boundaries confuse and some people compete to be more progressive than others, mirrors the disorienting atmosphere around his own situation.

In the end, after being genuinely funny, he's ultra-serious again. He thanks the audience earnestly for coming, saying he means it "'cause I saw the world where I don't ever get to do this again, and it almost felt like I'd died. In a way, I did." He didn't, of course. An old version of him died of embarrassment. Watch this special, but be careful what you say about it.


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As the U.S. awes and dominates, everybody else is playing catch-up
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Despite all the noise about their impudent cockiness, the U.S. women came out fast and hard for their fourth World Cup win, and skillfully demonstrated how the team has achieved greatness
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Monday, July 8, 2019 – Page B8

TORONTO -- At the final whistle, the man doing play-byplay on the TV feed we get in Canada said, "Nobody does it better." Fair enough. The United States won the World Cup with an emphatic 2-0 win over the Netherlands and, yes, nobody does it with quite the same explicit force.

It was a deserved win and the tidings from it are great for U.S. women's soccer, but bleak for everyone else. This was the reigning World Cup champion team playing the reigning European champions, and the gulf in quality and sheer clout was conspicuous. The rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do.

For all the noise about the impudent cockiness of this U.S. team during the tournament, nobody can diminish the players' stature or match their savvy and expertise. They're better than all the rest.

And then there's the vastly complicated matter of the symbolism. At a time when many Americans feel embarrassed about their country's President and his administration, and uneasy about what the country presents to the world, this victory was a blessed relief. The U.S. women's team thrust aside the notion of conventional femininity that is so soundly embraced in Trumpism and rejoiced in it.

Star player Megan Rapinoe would be elected to Congress in a heartbeat in some states.

The Netherlands had neither time nor inclination to care about symbolism. This was going be a tense matchup, a matter of tactical nous against an overpowering opponent. And the Dutch gave the U.S. team a sterner test than any realist expected.

The Americans always come out fast and hard, bamboozling their opponent with speed on the wings and force in their attacking forwards.

In every game before this, they had scored after 12 minutes. Not so, here. (Remember this: At the 2015 final in Canada, the United States was 4-0 up against Japan after 16 minutes and eventually won the game 5-2.) A terrifically organized Netherlands defended well from the start, absorbed the U.S.

pressure and relied on sudden counterattacks to keep the tempo somewhat above the hanging-onfor-dear-life gambit that characterized most teams playing the United States at the tournament.

Rapinoe was shut down by tight defending, Alex Morgan was being smothered and, yet, watching it all play out, you could see American resilience just waiting to burst into goal-scoring mode. While Rapinoe was tightly marked, Tobin Heath was a pest on the opposite flank. The Dutch did well, but after 35 minutes, they were simply hanging on. The American keeper hadn't been bothered at all.

A few minutes into the second half, after a brief spell with the Netherlands probing around the U.S. penalty area, but failing to do more than briefly rattle the U.S. defence, the stats said it all - the United States had seven shots on-target and the Dutch had one.

The first goal for the United States came - inevitably it seems in this tournament - from a VAR check on a possible penalty call. The referee, who was mostly excellent, decided a high kick by Stefanie van der Gragt, while trying to stop Morgan in the penalty area, was dangerous play. It was a dubious penalty, as anyone with long experience playing the game can tell you.

Morgan reacted to the flying leg of the defender, not to actual contact. No matter, Rapinoe scored the penalty.

There was life left in the Dutch, even if it was mostly thanks to the quickness of goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal. And then it was essentially all over. Crystal Dunn dispossessed a Dutch player with a hard but smart tackle, and the ball went to Rose Lavelle, who outclassed the Dutch defence with a couple of hip swerves and fired an unstoppable shot into the corner of the net. It was world-class, error-less skill. You could only be awed by it.

This is the United States's fifth World Cup final appearance, fourth win and second in a row. It scored 26 goals and it is beyond compare. How do you beat it? Not by defending and hoping for quick counterattack goals. Only by improving. Only by being as good as the best. The United States has a huge pool of talent to choose from, but it is funding, investment, resources, belief and resilience that achieve greatness. Nobody does it better than this women's team because nobody believes in women's soccer with a passion that rivals that of the United States. Until the rest of the world gets serious about catching up, the U.S. won't be caught.

Associated Graphic

Rose Lavelle of the U.S. celebrates with teammates after scoring on the Netherlands at the World Cup in Lyon, France, on Sunday.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Netherlands targeted American Megan Rapinoe well at the World Cup final on Sunday, but after 35 minutes, the team was simply hanging on.

BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS


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Katherine Ryan: Glitter Room spotlights a very funny Canadian
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Charming comedian focuses on life as a single mother in her second stand-up special
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Saturday, July 6, 2019 – Page A14

TELEVISION

If you were living in Britain and watching the many TV panel shows that amount to political and pop-culture commentary, you'd know Katherine Ryan. The comic originally from Sarnia, Ont., specializes in those shows that aren't so much quiz shows as they are quip shows. It's all about punchlines and instantly acid remarks. She's very good at it, apparently.

Katherine Ryan: Glitter Room (now streaming on Netflix Canada) is her second stand-up special. Before we get into the persona and material, a bit of background on the Canadian-born British star, since you may be unfamiliar with her. According to her website, she was working at a Hooters restaurant and she tried doing stand-up because there was a comedy club next door. And according to profiles in the British press, she became a trainer of Hooters staff and went to England 12 years ago with her boyfriend and started doing stand-up in London. Then the panel shows came calling. The Guardian called her, "The queen of the caustic punchline."

A lot of the material in Glitter Room is about her being a single mom. Her status as a single parent means she doesn't have much time for dating and she doesn't have much use for men, she says. "Men are like dolphins, best enjoyed on holiday" is one of those punchlines. She also has a good yarn about the mistake she made when she followed a boyfriend who had gone to Japan. It was essentially a booty-call and she fell for it.

About her Canadian past, she's bluntly dismissive: "I'm from a part of Canada that's awful. It's called Sarnia, Ontario."

Then she proceeds to mock the hell out of astronaut Chris Hadfield who, she claims, is the only other celebrity to come from there. She thinks a childhood friend, a woman who overdosed on fentanyl multiple times, should be the other true celebrity from the town.

In truth, Ryan is more charming than caustic in this special, which was taped in Los Angeles, a place where the audience doesn't know her from British TV. She's a brilliant comic performer, adroit at switching in and out of themes and rants that touch on politics, money and day-today life while making a living. At its core, though, is her relationship with her young daughter. A bit about gently discouraging her daughter from trying to reunite her mom and dad is very funny and unsentimental. She interacts with the audience often and is good at it. Her cynicism, when it emerges, tends to be lowkey and her anger is precision-focused.

The title is taken from a story she tells near the end of the special. "The glitter room" is what she calls her daughter Violet's bedroom. It's a very sparkly space and Ryan was quite proud of buying her own home and letting her daughter create a space for herself. The contractors hired to work on the new home were mystified and a bit appalled that the home was so feminine. "No man will want to live here," one of them announced. This gives Ryan scope for an excellent and funny rant. All of it is funny, actually. Even when Violet says to somebody, "Ignore my mummy, she's Canadian."

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND There's not a lot that's new, but if you're crushing on Stranger Things you might find it useful and interesting to watch Sunday's episode of The Movies (Sunday, CNN, 9 p.m.), which concentrates on big movies of the 1980s. It could explain a lot of context.

And there is one notable repeat this weekend. Fahrenheit 451 (Saturday, HBO Canada, 10:30 p.m.) is a good, angry adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel made by the Iranian-American writer-director Ramin Bahrani. It was made in 2017, the first year of the Trump presidency, and you can see every scintilla of anger about Trump-era's half-truths and untruths bursting through the script. For all of its anger it is also gorgeously made, a ravishing experience to watch. It was made in and around Toronto and it is fascinating to see familiar places, including TTC stations at night, used to signify gloom and sinister melancholy. The city looks macabre at times. It also features numerous Canadian actors, including Mayko Nguyen, Ted Dykstra, Joe Pingue, Joanne Boland and the YouTube star Lilly Singh.

A must-see if you missed it the first time HBO aired it.

Associated Graphic

Katherine Ryan is bluntly dismissive toward her hometown of Sarnia, Ont., in her new Netflix special, Katherine Ryan: Glitter Room.


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Impact of the Women's World Cup: Hatred of VAR and loathing of the U.S.
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American players seem ignorant to how their behaviour is being perceived around the world
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Saturday, July 6, 2019 – Page S2

TORONTO -- Go ahead and debate the lessons learned from this Women's World Cup. Go on, I dare you. Two themes emerge and both are toxic.

First, the often farcical use of the video assistant referee (VAR).

The application of VAR was stepped up from how it was wielded by referees at last year's men's World Cup in Russia. Over the past few weeks in France, it became an exasperating interference with the flow of the game.

In Canada's match against the Netherlands, Christine Sinclair stood for ages with the ball at the penalty spot while the referee consulted the VAR panel. It took almost four minutes before she reversed her decision. When France played Nigeria, the ref took the extraordinary decision to have a penalty retaken because the Nigeria keeper had moved a fraction off the goal line. It was a travesty of refereeing.

But to begin, let's talk about the United States. From start to finish the team's supercilious attitude ignited some loathing. It also invited absurd endorsement from politicians and others who wouldn't know a soccer ball if it hit them in the face.

The problem with sports, always, is that people project meaning onto everything. Okay, it's both a problem and it's what gives glorious relevance to sports at the top level. Everybody involved has to deal with that.

See, it's never just about results; it's about what the public extrapolates, and the U.S. team seems starkly ignorant of this fact. That's odd, since most of the players are university-educated.

What they don't get is how the rest of the world sees them. When the team is dominant and arrogant about it, some people see the frightening, imperious military muscle of the United States embodied in the team's strutting invincibility. That kind of deduction is human nature.

When the rest of the world looks at the smug behaviour and declarative, narcissistic goal celebrations of U.S. players, it sees an American need to humiliate others. It sees more than childish brattiness; it sees a lack of compassion. It thinks of migrant children separated from their families and put in cages. No player goes to the World Cup emotionally equipped for humiliation, but that's what the U.S. sets out to do - humiliate others and sneer.

From the 13-0 victory over Thailand to the semi-final win over England, the sneering went on. After the England match, Steph Houghton, who'd had her weak penalty shot saved, was being interviewed on British radio.

Emotional and bravely trying to articulate her exhausted feelings, the England captain was mid-sentence when American Lindsey Horan appeared behind her chanting "USA! USA!" An exasperated Houghton can be heard saying, "There was no need for that, was there really? Ridiculous.

That's disrespectful, man."

It is. And it is next-level disingenuous for American pundits and politicians to react to criticism of the behaviour with the knee-jerk response, "Would you say that if they were men?" In soccer, male players are castigated all the time for their actions.

Cristiano Ronaldo is as much despised for his swollen vanity as he is admired for his skill. Luis Suarez was universally lambasted for his deliberate handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup, which led to the last African team being knocked out; despised for racially abusing Patrice Evra on the field; and excoriated for biting an Italian player at the 2014 World Cup. There were calls for his expulsion from the sport.

Female soccer players do not have a monopoly on virtue because they fight for equal pay and taunt the U.S. President. It's very American to think that way, and it's partly why the world loathes this U.S. team. Gloating is just juvenile, whether by male or female athletes.

As for VAR, what has unfolded is every soccer fan's nightmare.

Time was, the referee was God on the field. The decisions were his, or hers, to make. It was part of what made soccer reflective of life in its inimitable cruelty. At work, bad things happen, and it might be that the boss is cruel or mistaken. There is no video-replay at work to let the boss know that you've been wronged. That's how soccer worked, like life. Soccer has always offered a tragic view of the universe and that has been its poetry, its soul.

Now FIFA has embraced technology and, on the evidence of this Women's World Cup, gone overboard. "VAR is cleaning football, making it more transparent and honest," FIFA president Gianni Infantino said during the men's World Cup in Russia. It certainly had an effect. In that tournament, there were 29 penalty kicks awarded, which was 16 more than at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Of that 16, VAR was used 11 times to reach a decision.

Referees were mostly consistent in deciding what required a video replay. But in France during this tournament, there has been no consistency and new rules have been applied, specifically about the goalkeeper's actions during a penalty kick and possible resulting punishment. The rules on handball appear to be upended now. It used to be, as every player from school kid to professional knew, hand-to-ball infringed the rules but ball-tohand was human error, unavoidable in the hurly-burly of play.

Now Pierluigi Collina, head of FIFA's refereeing committee - a great referee in his day without any use of technology - is giving news conferences in which he talks about the "natural" and "unnatural" position of the player's body in handball decisions.

It's madness. And almost as maddening as the toxic high-handedness of the U.S. team.

Associated Graphic

The U.S. team celebrates after its FIFA Women's World Cup semi-final victory over England at Stade de Lyon on Tuesday in Lyon, France. The U.S. plays the Netherlands for the gold on Sunday.

ELSA/GETTY IMAGES


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Save Me is the best Canadian series you're not watching yet
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Thursday, July 4, 2019 – Page A14

TELEVISION

One of my counterparts in the United States, writing about TV for a publication there, took to social media this week to declare that after Stranger Things 3 launched, there would be nothing much new that's notable until late July. He suggested now's the time to catch up on things you've missed.

True, that last bit. But if you're here in Canada, there are new productions you'll need to see this summer, on linear TV and on streaming services.

We make a lot of TV in Canada, much of it is mediocre, and when one comes along that's superb, I ask you to pay attention.

Save Me (streaming on CBC Gem) is one such show. It is probably the best Canadian series you're not watching. But you must.

It's funny, clever, sometimes melancholic and often beautifully unsettling. You want more encouragement? The acting is brilliant, and you'll see some familiar, distinguished figures.

When Save Me began streaming on CBC two years ago, I pointed it out to you as an odd but very smart anthology series with an ingenious premise.

We get to know a small team of paramedics and the series - drama/comedy/ drollery - manages to drill down briefly into people's lives and circumstances right before the medics show up in an emergency situation of some sort.

The second season, which began streaming last week, is even stronger, offering flashes of intensity or whimsy, and sometimes deftly illuminating the mixture of emotional heaven and hell that is urban living.

It's very, very Toronto and yet it's simply urban life, too.

Each episode - it's created and directed by actor/playwright Fab Filippo - comes in at about 10 minutes and some are remarkably dense for all the brevity.

At six episodes, the second season is an ideal short binge. The first episode introduces the paramedics. A motley crew would be an understatement.

There's a lovely turn from Suresh John (Malik on Mr. D) and things get steamy after an incident - a bunch of older people decide to get high on a lark and it all goes awry - when one of the medics (Karen Knox, being unabashed) hooks up with a colleague. It's a little crazy and a little sexy, that one.

There's another about a charming idiot trying to mow lawns for money in December.

It goes very badly, of course. Nicholas Campbell manages to own the episode with a few lines of dialogue.

The real, thrilling heart of the series is in two particular episodes.

In one, the third of the six, medic Goldie (Filippo) has a rather sad, pensive parting with a woman who has spent the night.

Next, two sisters, played by Emily Hampshire and Rebecca Liddiard, are having one of those deliciously millennial conversations about what is politically correct, in a parked car, when a guy simply opens the rear door and asks to be taken home.

What unfolds is a delightfully sweet but melancholic insight into ways we live in big cities, all caught up in ourselves and trained to be alert, yet assuming what we are alert for is dangerous.

Hampshire also appears in a beautifully surreal but moving episode in which she plays a struggling stand-up comedian. Her sidekick and neighbour (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) is also a comedian and we see them at work at a comedy club and at home.

The scenes at the club have an absurd finesse that's funny but piquant.

Andrew Phung from Kim' s Convenience plays a coked-up doofus who manages to represent every idiot you've ever met at a comedy club.

Then, oddly, in strolls Peter Mansbridge.

He's not acting here - he definitely can't act - but he's being Mansbridge, delivering a hilariously pretentious appreciation of the comedy that he's seen.

It's all madly weird, funny and then memorably wistful as the tight little story unfolds.

A couple of episodes are just cockeyed, but you've only spent 10 minutes watching a well-acted mistake. There's so much here to savour.

For a series that's essentially about how bad things befall even innocent people, and how dealing with trauma can harm those paid to respond, there are no doleful expositions about life. Just empathy for ordinary people living ordinary urban lives and it really is superbly acted. Embrace it and you'll love it, just as the stories ask you to embrace this fickle life.


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Stranger Things 3: Not dour, not deep, just lovely escapism
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Wednesday, July 3, 2019 – Page A14

TELEVISION

The charm of Stranger Things began to dissipate somewhat in the second season: too much plot, too many monsters, too many complicated passages of darkness. It wasn't a disaster when it landed two years ago, but there was a dour aura around it, telling viewers that in terms of succumbing easily to the original's grace, humour and delightfulness, lightning wasn't going to strike twice with any ease.

Stranger Things 3 (streams on Netflix from Thursday) brings it all back, that charm, by the bucketful. There are eight episodes, so the plotting is tighter - it's more easily digested as a binge-watch - and, well, it's summer in the pleasant town of Hawkins. Therefore, everything is sunnier.

The core of the series is still that gang of nerdy boys Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), plus the girls, Max (Sadie Sink) and of course the gloriously poised Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Their adventures, both mundane and dangerous, are the heartbeat of the series.

Thing is, they are all older now, edging into adolescent things. Mike and Eleven are certainly dating. This involves a great deal of intense kissing, sometimes while listening to Corey Hart songs. Their obsessive kissing annoys Hopper (David Harbour), who's now officially a dad to El, and he becomes equally obsessive about stopping the kissing thing. Dustin returns from a science camp and announces that he's got a girlfriend. "Think Phoebe Cates, only hotter," he announces. And that's one of the points where the retro vibe, the nostalgia for the 1980s pop culture, kicks in. Who has thought of Phoebe Cates in, like, decades?

There is a darkness lurking, of course.

Men in laboratories in white coats are up to nefarious, no-goodnik doings. (If you are spooked by rats, by the way, brace yourself. There's a big rat thing going on in the first few episodes.) But the summery, fun aspect of Stranger Things is more intact than in the second season.

There is a jaunty, effervescent quality that bespeaks sharp writing and precision direction. What Stranger Things amounts to is lovingly crafted escapist entertainment with dark twists to make you curl your toes after you've smiled a lot.

Some socially conscious themes emerge, too. Some can be given away.

The list of things that cannot be written about in advance is as long as those excruciating no-spoiler lists that Matthew Weiner provided for episodes of Mad Men. But one theme is about the town of Hawkins itself. There's a new mall. Not only do the kids hang out there, but everybody is shopping there. The stores on Main Street are closing for lack of business. And there's a sharp reminder about how recently there was outrageously sexist behaviour in the workplace and misogyny in the media - Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is interning at the local newspaper and witnesses a meeting in which a woman's breasts are discussed with gusto.

Oddly, the arrival of "New Coke" in the summer of 1985 seems to play a large role. What that theme suggests is that things are changing rapidly and often for no good reason.

Meanwhile, there's melancholy, too. A scene in which Joyce (Winona Ryder) puts a rather sad little meal in the microwave and then sits down to watch Cheers on TV turns into a grieving scene. Over at the local swimming pool, pulses are racing among the older women when Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is on duty as a lifeguard. The point of that thread of the storyline is, at first, sheer fun, and then becomes something else, about adults not being trustworthy.

None of this is meant to imply the series is deep. This sharply written, fasterpaced season doesn't try to open up the characters or the story. At the same time, it isn't repeating itself. Stranger Things has a comfortable groove now.

Viewers respond to characters they know already. They're watching them grow and develop but, apart from the horror aspects that take a while to arrive, there is not a lot to surprise here. It doesn't have to surprise. It can delight without changing the magic formula.

All those 1980s references and the wit and sense of longing for simpler times - no internet, no smartphones, no obsessing over Instagram - is exactly what makes the series a delight again. And more of a delight than the second season.


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Rising above
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019 – Page B9

The United States' Lindsey Horan jumps for a header with England's Jill Scott during their semi-final match at the Women's World Cup in Lyon, France, on Tuesday. Coming off of their quarter-final ousting of France, the U.S. beat England 2-1 - even without star captain Megan Rapinoe, who was relegated to the bench with a strained hamstring. The U.S. now heads to the final on Sunday, facing either the Netherlands or Sweden. John Doyle has the game story B13

Associated Graphic

ELSA/GETTY IMAGES


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Make it stop: The U.S. keeps winning
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England, a team that didn't deserve to fail, becomes the latest squad to fall before the U.S. juggernaut
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019 – Page B13

Cometh the hour, cometh the England women. And even they couldn't defeat the United States.

The often-quoted wisdom about the sport from former England men's player Gary Lineker is this: "Football is a simple game.

Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." Change that, in the women's game, to this: The Americans always win.

Make it stop, the world outside of the United States cries out.

This is getting ludicrous. The circus that is the media and political attention paid to the bubble in which the American women's team exists, is bothersome beyond belief. Does the chutzpah of this team amount to arrogance?

If Megan Rapinoe provokes Donald Trump, does that make her sympathetic, and less of a walking, talking emblem of hubris?

Those are questions it would be nice to ignore for a while. They are how-many-angels-fit-on-thehead-of-a-pin questions. They make your head hurt. It would be nice to return to 22 players chasing a ball.

England came out hurt at the end of the first semi-final of this World Cup, losing 2-1, but came closest to shutting down this U.S.

machine and was both unlucky and, near the end, eerily inept.

The most important moment in another knockout match was a terribly taken penalty kick.

Watching that moment was excruciating. Like Janine Beckie's low, softly kicked penalty for Canada against Sweden, this one had looming disaster written all over it. It crushed England, a team that didn't deserve to fail.

This was the game that the quarter-final between France and the U.S. was supposed to be: Frantic at times, exciting to watch and the U.S. at last being truly challenged. It was a declaration of the splendid state of the women's game; gripping, fraught and full of drama.

Like every other opponent, England began by being spooked by the Americans. There seemed to be a mind game playing out as Rapinoe was on the bench and everybody was unsure why, for a while, until it turned out she picked up a minor hamstring strain in the win over France but is expected to be fit for Sunday's final.

All teams are spooked by the U.S. because the Americans set out to be super- and microaggressive. They are physically imposing, invasive and carry out countless microaggressions, such as putting a hand to the face of the opposing player in tussles, out of sight of the referee, screaming support at one another. And they have that thing that American superstar athletes always have in spades, that thing called attitude.

For a change, in this match, the U.S. actually played sweeping, attractive soccer. The Americans poured forward looking for an early goal and they got one. After 10 minutes, a gorgeous move saw Kelley O'Hara send in a perfect cross to Christen Press - replacing Rapinoe and out to prove her worth - who scored with a fine header. It happened so fast and with such sweet movement that England's defence was hopelessly muddled.

Nine minutes later, the real match began. The England players cut the U.S. defence wide open.

A long diagonal pass found Mead, whose pass to Ellen White was exquisite, and White's outstretched foot sent the ball well beyond American keeper Alyssa Naeher. Game on at 1-1.

Another 12 minutes went by and the U.S. scored its second, again out-manoeuvring England's defence with a grand but quick orchestral movement, as Lindsey Horan's ferociously fast cross found Alex Morgan, who headed it home with aplomb. England wasn't out of it then. Far from it. And while the second half began with long periods of scrappy play and niggling fouls, the meat of the drama was to come.

A lovely pass found White sprinting forward before easing the ball into the American net.

Then everything stopped for an agonizing video-assistant referee (VAR) check. White was maybe an inch offside. No goal. Soon after, England was still attacking, and the U.S. defence looked wobbly and desperate. A pass from Fran Kirby, on as a substitute, found Demi Stokes, who passed to an onrushing White (who was magnificent all night), who then appeared to be pushed to the ground. Another VAR check and England had its deserved lifeline in a penalty with less than 10 minutes left in regulation.

That was hard to watch. Anyone familiar with the game at the granular level knew that Steph Houghton was ill-prepared to take it. She took a few steps back.

Too few, as Beckie did taking that penalty for Canada. Naeher saw the feeble kick coming and saved it with ease. That kick should have been taken by White, the one with the most powerful shot.

To England's great credit, it kept pressing, but minutes later a rattled, tired Millie Bright got her second yellow card for a hard tackle on Morgan and was out of the game. The U.S. comfortably managed to smother a 10-player England team to seal the win.

So the winning goal was by Morgan in the 31st minute. She celebrated by miming the sipping of tea. What was that? Was it merely childish or a rude, pointed poke at England? Hillary Clinton cheered it on Twitter. Is that feminism, or what? Such arguments must stop. But will only stop when this perversely provocative U.S. team is defeated.

And now on to the final, against Sweden or the Netherlands, on Sunday. Then, maybe it will stop.

The world outside of the U.S. demands that that happens.

Associated Graphic

U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher celebrates with teammates after saving a crucial penalty during the team's semi-final match against England on Tuesday.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


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Mini-series offers a portrait of the man behind Fox News
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Saturday, June 29, 2019 – Page A18

TELEVISION

Some people of a certain age have known a guy like Roger Ailes. Possibly there are still men like him in some workplaces: bulky, shrewd, given to snarling, set in his ways politically and socially, and proud of his bluntness; he believes he has a way with women, but all he has is power, not charisma or charm.

The thing about the real Ailes is that his workplace was the Fox News Network. He created it, shaped it, made it the mouthpiece of the Republican Party, turned it into a propaganda machine and ensured it defined U.S. political discourse. He also made it the most toxic of workplaces for women. When Ailes died in 2017 at the age of 77, he had recently resigned from Fox News following sexual harassment accusations that he denied.

The Loudest Voice (starts Sunday, Crave, 10 p.m.) is a sevenpart Showtime mini-series that stars Russell Crowe as Ailes. It opens with his death and Ailes in a voice-over declaring he knows exactly what will be said about him. He doesn't cackle, which is a relief, because the series is grim enough - a plain but acid account of a terrifying figure, a monster even.

On the evidence of the first batch of episodes, it doesn't promise to reveal the soul of Ailes or find that tender part of him that was somehow turned malignant. Based on Gabriel Sherman's 2014 book, The Loudest Voice in the Room, it simply offers the story of an ambitious white male born in the first half of the 20th century and how he took everything that designation implies and used it to shape U.S. politics. The mini-series can be faulted for a lack of complexity and nuance, but it does have one ingenuous undertone - you watch this and project so much about Ailes onto the figure who occupies the White House.

After that brief death scene, the story goes back to 1995. Ailes has just been let go from CNBC, which he made into a powerful cable outlet. He's seen boasting that he got great ratings by hiring (the real) Maria Bartiromo, whom he calls "the money honey." There are vague accusations against Ailes and he must resign, but he's cunning enough to persuade the bosses that a non-compete clause does not include an outlet that doesn't exist. He knows that Rupert Murdoch (played here by Simon McBurney) wants to launch an all-news channel and he's the one to run it.

He does and the creation of the Fox News modus opera is at the core of the first two episodes. Ailes wants "fast-paced tabloid TV," not seriousness. He wants a conservative outlet because all other media is considered liberal. He wants women in skirts and dresses on-air. He wants loud males. There is a fascinating sequence about the hiring of a then-obscure figure, Sean Hannity (Patch Darragh). Others see Hannity as an amateurish shock-jock from the boonies. Ailes sees someone who will drive liberal America insane. We also see and hear Ailes make his famous declarations that "people don't want to be informed, they want to feel informed" and that Fox News will have "the loyalty of the passionate few."

Intertwined with the story of Fox News being launched are glimpses of Ailes, the private man. The first episode (directed by Canadian Kari Skogland) gives us this part of Ailes by offering a serious dose of the creeps. His relationship with Fox executive Laurie Luhn (Annabelle Wallis) is presented as a sick relationship. Ailes hovers by her in a bar as this dark, menacing figure and we see glimpses of Ailes touching her in a hotel corridor. The real Ms. Luhn, by the way, recently launched a lawsuit against Fox News and before that, in January, another against the producers of this series. Fox News has denied her allegations and the mini-series producers have declined to comment on her suit against them.

As Ailes, Crowe is all stillness and a quiet threat. His Ailes is a bland-looking figure who erupts into fury, calls meetings at 4 a.m. and, at those meetings, fires people and screams at others.

He's even cocky enough to shout at Murdoch and insult Murdoch's sons. He does it because he can, and he can because he's created the most powerful and profitable all-news outlet.

What's more implied than depicted with conspicuous brazenness is his relationships with women. These are deeply unsettling scenes. Every woman watching will recognize the manipulation, the tacit threats and murmured promises that are used to control and influence them. Sienna Miller plays Ailes's wife, Beth, as a figure he barely recognizes as fully human. She's someone else for him to control. The eventual appearance of Naomi Watts as Gretchen Carlson, whose accusations would be the undoing of Ailes, is presented as a routine episode in Ailes's life; another woman for him to menace and harass.

Neither cartoonish nor an entirely in-depth character study, The Loudest Voice isn't a screed, either. It's a stonily macabre story of ugliness in a man's character and in U.S. politics.


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A REAL AMERICAN HERO
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Saturday, June 29, 2019 – Page S1

The United States women's soccer team overcame the host country France 2-1 in a Women's World Cup quarter-final match thanks to a pair of goals from forward Megan Rapinoe, John Doyle writes S3

Associated Graphic

United States forward Megan Rapinoe vies for the ball with French defender Marion Torrent during a 2019 Women's World Cup quarter-final match on Friday at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris.

LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


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Boring, ruthless efficiency gives the U.S. win in overhyped contest against France
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The American squad has yet to face a true test of its skills at this World Cup
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Saturday, June 29, 2019 – Page S3

Hyped as the blockbuster match of this Women's World Cup - an insult to other teams, really - the quarterfinal clash between France and the United States had an aura all its own.

First, the U.S. is the odds-on favourite to win the World Cup and France is considered its strongest possible opposition.

That, however, was part of the fanciful hyperbole. Yes, coming into the game the U.S. had lost just once in its past 42 games, and that was to France in a match played back in January.

But that was a meaningless friendly. Then on the other hand, the U.S. has scored 20 goals in this tournament and allowed precisely one goal by the opposition. But most of that scoring was against weak opposition.

It was no blockbuster this 2-1 win by the U.S. (the TV play-byplay chap we hear in Canada actually called it a "gargantuan" match before kickoff.) It was one-sided and a normal day at work for the Americans. It was still playing against weak opposition. And it's getting boring, this American dominance.

The problem with gauging teams in women's soccer is that top international teams don't play often enough competitively to be accurately assessed in quality. FIFA's world rankings are unreliable. Teams emerge from nowhere to soar, as Italy has done at this World Cup and as Japan did eight years ago. Apart from the fact that the Americans are formidable, a lot that's written or said about women's soccer amounts to blather.

What really matters is the day, the game and the dynamics of the 90 minutes. On this day, a hot one in Paris, the U.S. showed up and France didn't. The 2-1 scoreline flatters France. This was all aimless effort and the host country never really menaced the U.S. It wasn't a rout, but it was a shockingly lame display by France.

The defending champions are through and will meet England in a semi-final on Tuesday that promises to be the match this one was hyped to be. The U.S.

won this with ruthless efficiency.

It's not a great team, but it's a good team and one that knows how to terrorize the opposition with speed, fierce physicality and powerful shots hit from any and all angles. Its players are cynical, too, sometime exaggerating injury and sometimes arguing pointlessly with the referee, but it gets the job done.

Four minutes in, it was clear France was not mentally prepared for this encounter.

Defender Griedge Mbock Bathy pulled down Alex Morgan and it was all too obviously a foul. From the resulting free kick, Megan Rapinoe's low but powerful ball went through a tangle of legs and past the stunned and blindsided French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

It was terrible defending to give away the free kick and worse still to let a wayward ball reach the net. The U.S. then settled in to defend the lead, often playing five defenders at the back to break up French attacks and simply frustrate them. It takes incredible discipline to play for long periods with this tactic but the U.S. can do it with aplomb. It requires inspired attacking to overcome this strategy, but there was nothing inspiring about France. At halftime, the U.S. keeper, Alyssa Naeher, hadn't been tested once.

A shockingly lame display from a team billed as the only real rival to the U.S.

France started the second half with more purpose, enjoyed 59per-cent possession on the hour and accrued 11 shots, but none were on target. Then the vulnerability of France became obvious. Struggling to string passes together and find a direct route towards goal, it lost possession.

Alex Morgan, who had been largely ineffective, put a lovely ball through to Tobin Heath, who found an unmarked Rapinoe, who in turn scored her fifth goal of the tournament. And it was an easy one.

Only when France was losing 2-0 did the team come to life.

Pushed on by loud, roaring home support in the stadium, the team poured forward. But its most dangerous players, Kadidiatou Diani and Amandine Henry, were easily curbed by decisive defending. The French goal when it came was a beauty, a glancing header by Wendie Renard from a free kick and it gave the home support belief, but it didn't make the U.S. any less capable at smothering France in open play.

Adding to the special aura around this match was the significant shift in perception about the American team. There was near-universal eye-rolling about the giddy celebration of every goal when the U.S. defeated Thailand 13-0. There was a trait of the swaggering bully about this team. Then U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to admonish Rapinoe for declaring she would not visit the White House if the team won the World Cup. The perception changed.

Trump was bullying Rapinoe and, by extension, the team.

Suddenly, the U.S. became a team that neutrals took into their hearts.

The players are still not lovable, though. Admirably composed, the team is more businesslike than brilliant. And still untested. When the test comes, perhaps presented by England, that will be a blockbuster. This one wasn't.

Associated Graphic

U.S. goalie Alyssa Naeher, left, deflects the ball away during her team's 2-1 win over France in a Women's World Cup quarter-final match in Paris on Friday.

ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AP


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The Rook: A fine espionage thriller ruined by fantasy flim-flammery
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Thursday, June 27, 2019 – Page A15

TELEVISION

Olivia Munn was on Late Night with Seth Meyers the other night. She was very charming and told funny stories about her mom and her family.

Thing is, she was there to promote a new TV series in which she stars, and she barely mentioned it.

The show is The Rook (starts Sunday, 8 p.m. on the STARZ linear channel, and on-demand on Crave). It's the oddest thing.

When I saw the opening episode back in February at the TV Critics press tour, I liked it a lot. Then I got to see more episodes and the thing just turned into a muddle of the espionage and paranormal genres.

It's a very interesting mess, mind you. What makes it go awry is the awkward intrusion of the paranormal, monsters, people with superpowers and the rather constrained use of special effects, a technique that, every now and then, explodes into the sudden overuse of garish effects. It's not easy to make a compelling TV drama about people with superpowers or special abilities. (Look what happened to Heroes and Sense8.)

What works is either a fantasyniche show with limited appeal (those abound) or it's a down-toearth drama about special powers and how that has an impact on ordinary people in mundane life.

What happens in The Rook starts off promisingly. A woman, Myfanwy Thomas (Emma Greenwell), wakes up by the River Thames surrounded by dead bodies wearing plastic gloves and dead vultures. She has no memory of who she is or what happened to her. This part is beautifully made and compelling - a richly detailed portrait of a spooky London, all nooks and crannies of danger or perversion. It's gorgeous, contemporary noir.

As we follow Myfanwy, it turns out she left instructions for herself in case something terrible happened and she wound up with amnesia. It also turns out that she's what's called a "Rook," a high-ranking member of something called the Checquy - a very secret part of British Intelligence made up of people with superpowers - that handles cases that involve people with Extreme Variant Abilities (called EVAs), sometimes recruiting them into intelligence work, and they also do battle against the human trafficking of EVAs. Got that? Yes it's a muddle. What could be an excellent espionage thriller, with a woman remaking her life at its centre, is torn to shreds by the insertion of flimflammery about special powers and paranormal activity. There's a subplot about Britain having been invaded by bad EVAs on the orders of some mad Belgian scientist, or something. It's infuriatingly obscure.

There is also the matter of the central character. Clearly the novels on which the series is based put emphasis on Myfanwy reinventing herself after her memory is erased. This is a feminist theme about a woman being made free of her past. Here, Myfanwy spends a lot of time worried - Greenwell is excellent - and a bit scared of her powers. Add to this the insistence by the producers, and some cast, that "superpowers" is the wrong term to describe the ability of the characters, and you've got an even bigger mess. We're supposed to use the term Extreme Variant Abilities, apparently.

As for Munn, her character doesn't really fit seamlessly into the already confusing storyline.

She represents the U.S. equivalent of the Checquy and is in London on a mission to sort out something or other. But actually to find her former lover. Mostly her character is patronized or duped by her British counterparts. Munn can be a compelling actor, bringing a visceral human quality to even sci-fi roles, but here she is outclassed by the small army of veteran British veteran actors such as Joely Richardson and Adrian Lester, who plays the battling bosses of the Checquy.

By all means, watch the opening episode of The Rook. It's a beautifully made neo-noir espionage thriller. But if you plan to stick with it, the series will lead you down strange and infuriating paths and you might feel swindled. Pity.


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Blame bungled tactics and cautious coaching for Canada's exit from the World Cup
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Given the depth of skill on this team, coach Heiner-Moller's choices must be questioned. Why did he decide to have Sinclair play full-length games? Why did he allow Beckie to take that penalty? It should never have come to this
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019 – Page B15

8 In its past nine World Cup games, Canada has managed to score just eight goals.

182 Canadian captain Christine Sinclair netted a single goal through the team's four World Cup matches, bringing her career total to 182, two shy of American Abby Wambach's international record.

It wasn't exactly a shambles but it was a washout. Canada is out of the Women's World Cup after losing by a single goal to Sweden. A team that seemed to promise so much just didn't deliver.

And the postmortem must single out ludicrous decisionmaking by the coach. Don't blame the players, blame the boss.

Sure, it was a game between evenly matched teams, both wary and both waiting to pounce on mistakes by the other, but for Canada, the stark summary is this: Its single clear chance at a goal came from a lucky break; a delayed videoassistant-referee (VAR) call for a penalty kick eventually awarded to Canada and then saved.

That missed-opportunity penalty will haunt the team and Canadian soccer for a while. It shouldn't haunt Janine Beckie, who kicked it and had her shot stopped. She should never have been required or allowed to take it. A gifted player with the moving ball, swift of foot and good at finding space, she does not a have a powerful kick. She just doesn't.

As soon as Beckie stood over the ball, most observers of this Canadian team knew it was no sure goal. She took a few steps back - too few - and kicked accurately and low, but Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, a wise veteran, saw it coming and saved with aplomb. Good keepers do that when the ball is low, where they can reach, and the shot lacks ferocity.

What was needed was a burst-the-back-of-the-net shot.

Velocity that no keeper can stop. The kind that Christine Sinclair can still deliver. Sinclair should have taken that kick.

Using Beckie for that penalty was asking a nimble kid to do what a strong experienced adult can do by routine.

Even if Beckie volunteered, she should have been overruled.

Sinclair was invisible in this match and her barely there presence and lack of quickness defines what went wrong for Canada at the tournament. She's still got gas in the tank, but not for a full 90 minutes in a knockout match against a strong team on a hot night. Yet coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller stuck with her, a cautious, keep-the-faith move, and his team strategy was all caution, all the time. Taking that judicious approach into a knockout game, a win-or-go-home encounter, was suicidal.

Given the depth and breadth of youthful talent on this team, given the skills the players possess, Heiner-Moller's team selection and tactics must be questioned. His job should be on the line. What he did in sticking with Sinclair to play full-length games and then having Beckie take that penalty is not muddled thinking.

It's bush league and it's bungling.

Canada started with its usual blend of prudent possession but obvious lack of desire or intent to create scoring chances. Sweden was doing the same. After 20 minutes of play, Sweden had its entire team defending as Canada passed the ball around nicely, but aimlessly. It was a dull first half but, in its final 10 minutes, Sweden had the upper hand, forcing Beckie, Allysha Chapman and others into giving away the ball. Sweden was hustling that bit more. Canada seemed out of ideas already.

Sweden looked sharper in fitness, too, and the difference in physical intensity between the two teams is another knock against Heiner-Moller's decision making. For Sweden's final firstround game against the United States last week, manager Peter Gerhardsson rested seven players and essentially used a secondstring team. He reckoned Sweden would lose against the Americans and face Canada in the round of 16, and his team would be more rested and hungry. It was. Now that's prudent planning.

In the 55th minute, Elin Rubensson won the ball in her own half, breaking up some sloppy Canadian passing - tiredness was setting in - and then played it quickly to Kosovare Asllani surging down the left flank. Asllani, Sweden's best player, lifted a wonderful ball to Stina Blackstenius, who beat both defender Shelina Zadorsky and keeper Stephanie Labbé to the ball before firing it over the Canadian keeper. It was the first on-target shot of the game for either side, but Sweden made it count because it was hungry and ready for it.

Then came that VAR decision and the saved penalty. After that, the game was fizzling out and it was truly out of Canada's reach.

Late substitutions by Canada, bringing on Adriana Leon and Jayde Riviere, added zest, but it all amounted to frantic desperation and both were trying to get the ball to a tired Sinclair, who was easily stifled by the Swedish defence.

It should never have come to this - an early exit for a highly skilled team on the cusp of greatness. The coach created a mess from a massively capable, intelligent and proficient team that was ready for glory. Point the finger at him, not the players.

Associated Graphic

Christine Sinclair wins a header during Canada's round-of-16 match against Sweden at Parc des Princes in Paris on Monday.

RICHARD HEATHCOTE/GETTY IMAGES

Sweden's Stina Blackstenius, left, celebrates after scoring during her team's round-of-16 match against Canada on Monday. Sweden seemed especially sharp, fitness-wise, because manager Peter Gerhardsson had rested seven of his players for the team's final first-round match against the United States.

FRANCISCO SECO/AP


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Canadian women's soccer team needs to repay supporters' loyalty
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Monday, June 24, 2019 – Page B9

The next few days will define a certain special relationship, and that relationship is the one between this country and Canada's women's soccer team.

And it's a relationship, for sure.

One of those long-standing, loving partnerships where one side is compassionate, caring and supportive.

The other half keeps underachieving, but feeds off all that love and support.

All such relationships come to a crucial phase.

This is it. Either Canada will wonder why our women's team is so often on the cusp of achieving, and then doesn't, or the team actually delivers.

The knockout stage of a World Cup is no place for those who wish and hope. It's for risk takers and achievers.

Sweden is Canada's opponent on Monday and is beatable. Sweden is excellent in defence and struggles to score. Its greatest achievement was when it defeated the United States on penalties in the quarter-finals at the Rio Olympics, handing the Americans their first Olympic loss in eight years. The match went to penalties because Sweden's single tactic was defending en masse. It was after that loss that Hope Solo, then the U.S.

goalkeeper, called the Swedish players "cowards" for their conservative playing style. They weren't cowards, but they had only one strategy for winning - playing for a 0-0 result and hoping for luck in a penalty shootout.

Sweden struggled to beat Chile in its opening World Cup game, with 65-per-cent possession and one goal from 10 on-target shots. Its second goal came in the fourth minute of added time against a clearly exhausted Chile. The team has one truly dangerous player. That's Kosovare Asllani, a midfielder who is gifted in technique and scores more often than the designated strikers.

Canada has an extraordinarily rounded team right now, solid in defence and midfield. All it lacks is strikers who can score with a powerful shot. They are on the roster, but so far have been deployed too late in matches.

If Canada fails to impress us in the knockout round of this World Cup, the love and support will be hanging by a thread. The impact of that potential loss of support and interest will be incalculable. After this tournament, the next showcase for women's soccer is at next year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

After that, the countdown starts for the 2026 FIFA (men's) World Cup to be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In that countdown, it's the men's team that will matter.

The men's team is already improving steadily under John Herdman, who used to coach the women's team. He has the benefit of having Alphonso Davies, the best young Canadian prospect in years, currently honing his skills with defending German champion Bayern Munich, one of the world's great clubs. Canada won't have to qualify for 2026. It will be there automatically as co-host. The attention and support shifts to those guys.

Right now, the women's team has greatness in its grasp, and it's time to repay supporters for their undying loyalty.

Analyst Bobby McMahon, who was the shrewdest voice on the old Fox Soccer Report and now writes for Forbes magazine, is one of the few skeptics about the women's team. He wrote this recently: "Canada takes little or no risks with two central midfield players sitting deep to protect the back four. Don't tell Canadian fans - because the Canadian media doesn't - but it makes for boring, predictable and mindnumbing soccer." Ouch.

He's not correct about "boring, predictable" play. At times Canada's been thrilling at this World Cup. But he's right that the Canadian media coddles this team. The verdicts have been kind, even as expectations aren't met. Against Sweden, it's a win-or-go-home game and if the team goes home, a love affair is over.

Associated Graphic

Canada's Jessie Fleming battles the Netherlands' Jackie Groenen for the ball during their group stage match last Thursday. Forbes writer Bobby McMahon criticized the Canadian team for taking 'little or no risks.'

LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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HBO's Years and Years: Unmissable dose of the frights about the near future
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Monday, June 24, 2019 – Page A14

F ar be it from me to call a halt to your sweet summer vibe, but I must draw your attention to something. It just finished airing in Britain, where it was called "2019's most terrifying TV show." There are no scary monsters in it. Except, that is, for a populist politician played with ruthless precision by Emma Thompson. If you want a dose of the frights about the looming future, it's here.

Years and Years (starts Monday, Crave/HBO, 9 p.m.) is a six-part miniseries, a BBC/HBO production that is part entertaining drama about the lives of one ordinary family and part dystopian vision of the next 15 years. It starts now, in 2019, and projects into a post-Brexit, two-term Trump administration future. It isn't subtle and wasn't meant to be - it's a polemic that manages to stay gripping and remain humane, even if there is rage and doubt simmering constantly.

Created by Russell T. Davies, who, among other things, revived Dr. Who to huge success and wrote A Very English Scandal, it seems at first to be a sweetly realized portrait of one representative family.

That's the Lyons, living in Manchester. They are good, decent people. There's Stephen (Rory Kinnear), a financial adviser and loving father and husband. His brother Daniel (Russell Tovey) is a civil servant, a housing officer who is gay and marries his partner in a joyous wedding in the first episode.

There's sister Rosie (Ruth Madeley), who has spina bifida and copes with life using a gleeful sense of humour. The other sister, Edith (Jessica Hynes), is a noted political activist and writer, but mostly lives in other countries. Matriarch Muriel (Anne Reid) is a bit of an elderly grouse, but essentially good-natured. These people and their partners and kids could be on Coronation Street.

But as little family crises and birthdays and anniversaries unfold in the first hour, the news they watch on TV or hear on their car radios puts their lives in context.

Most striking of all in the news they absorb is the rise of Vivienne Rook (Thompson), a fringe figure rather like the pro-Brexit Nigel Farage. Asked in a TV debate for her views on the Middle East, Rook has a blunt answer. In the matter of Israel and the situation of Palestinians, she says, "I don't give a monkey's." (She also expresses herself, at times, more bluntly than can be repeated here.) You see the impact and you see the both the shock and populist appeal. Rook wants cleaner streets and fewer immigrants.

Her presence and her message will overshadow the drama until later, when she becomes its focus.

Davies manages rather cleverly to hit on every important and worrying development we can imagine unfurling over the next decade. Most of the characters use their smartphones and computers a lot. A teenage daughter to one of Lyons family siblings becomes a bit obsessed with virtual reality. To the point where she wants to become "trans-human" and demands to shed her body and have her brain exist in a digital space. Daniel's husband becomes enthralled by online sources that inform him about what's really going on - among other things, that germs don't exist and are part of a bigpharma conspiracy. Fake news and our obsession with social media become plot points. It's unsubtle when a character pronounces that most people are getting "stupider," but it's dramatically the right turn of events.

But by the end of the first episode there's a truly terrifying development. The drama posits that Donald Trump is re-elected and in his final days as U.S. President takes action that changes the world. What happens is like a sci-fi fantasy that is rooted in an all too real plausibility. There's been nothing scarier on TV this year, it's true.

What marks Years and Years as outstanding, for all its underlying polemics, is its humour, wit and tenderness. It's actually very funny at times and there's also a raging love story embedded in it. All of that and an uncanny sense of dread lurking always. It's unmissable, even if it undermines your summer-induced optimism.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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TV adaptation of Das Boot is a first-rate wartime thriller
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The eight-episode miniseries is more of a sequel than a retelling of the classic 1981 film's narrative
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Saturday, June 22, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

There was a time when the term "Europudding" was the kiss of death. It was applied to movies and TV series made with money and artistic input from various European countries. Maybe a French star, a German writer and an English director, and what you got was something nobody could digest.

No longer. This current age of great TV has allowed all manner of storytelling to be elastic and excellent. The British make Nordicstyle thrillers, Netflix is everywhere and standards are so high that nothing gets an easy pass for being a nice Euro co-operation.

A sterling example is a new series derived from the very male and classic German movie Das Boot, from 1981. That was set almost entirely among the crew of a German U-boat in the first years of the Second World War. The series isn't just that. It expands beautifully outward and inward.

And it's a Germany/France/U.S.

co-production.

Das Boot (all episodes available to stream on CBC Gem) is also part of an odd little trend. That is, multipart series based on books that were made into good movies.

Recently, we've seen a new adaptation of Catch-22 from Hulu, and a miniseries based on The Name of The Rose aired on Sundance TV.

Continuing, of course, is the multiseason adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, another novel that was first turned into a film.

Here, the eight-episode Das Boot (in German, French and English and with English subtitles) is more of a sequel than a retelling of the movie's narrative. About half the storyline is set on land.

And that's what makes it at first intriguing, especially to anyone who knows the movie, and then it becomes a first-rate, top-drawer wartime thriller.

It opens in 1942 in the Germanoccupied French port town of La Rochelle. The German navy is rapidly building and launching more U-boats.

The advantage brought by the boats is starting to wane and too many are being lost because the Allies can find and destroy them, or mechanical failure is making them useless.

A newly appointed captain Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon), whose father was a legendary Uboat captain is about to take over a just-completed boat. He's an aloof figure, troubled by the weight of his father's reputation and immediately has issues with his second in command, Karl (August Wittgenstein, who was in The Crown). Trouble is looming on that claustrophobic submarine.

Meanwhile, a young woman, Simone Strasser (Vicky Krieps from the movie Phantom Thread), arrives to work as a translator for the German military. She's from the Alsace region of France, and says she's happier being German.

Her younger brother Frank (Leonard Schleicher) is railroaded into being the radio operator on the new U-boat. Before he leaves he asks her to meet someone, on his behalf, and exchange some documents.

What unfolds then, in a finely made thriller mode, is Simone's introduction to the French Resistance. Her brother has linked her to Carla Monroe (Lizzy Caplan, from Masters of Sex), a Resistance fighter whose anti-fascist leanings previously had her fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

The drama is a series of thrillers inside thrillers. On land, there is a seething tension beneath what the Germans think is a strong grip on things. At sea, frightened, angry men come to loathe each other.

Each character has layers beneath what we first see. Some scenes are blunt in their depiction of violence - there's sex and nudity, too - and throughout there's a livid tension. Highly recommended.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Highwire Live in Times Square With Nik Wallenda (Sunday, 8 p.m., ABC, City TV) is Nik Wallenda and his sister Lijana attempting to perform a 400-metre-long highwire walk across Times Square.

They will start at opposite ends and meet in the middle, pass each other and continue to the end opposite from where they started.

It's Lijana's first big-ticket stunt since a serious accident a few years ago. These live highwire specials have been a ratings gold mine for ABC in the past.

Apollo 11 (Sunday, CNN, 9 p.m.)

is not one of those quickie-specials that CNN sometimes airs on weekends. Shown with limited commercial interruption, it's director/producer Todd Douglas Miller's epic feature documentary capturing the tense, exhilarating period of the first landing on the moon. Using a lot of recently discovered 70 mm footage and more than 11,000 hours of audio recordings, Miller worked with NASA to locate, digitize and restore all sources of material related to the Apollo 11 mission.

Associated Graphic

Wartime series Das Boot, derived from the 1981 movie of the same name, centres on the crew of a German U-boat and the French Resistance.


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Mercurial Canada may finally flourish against Sweden
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Saturday, June 22, 2019 – Page S9

On the summer solstice, the Women's World Cup stopped. On the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, there were no games played. But the really long days and hours are just beginning for teams that survived to do battle in the round of 16 and their supporters.

There were no stunning upsets in the group stage. There were surprises, though. An unheralded Italy beat Australia, trounced Jamaica and narrowly lost a torrid match against Brazil. Italy now plays China on Tuesday and is capable of overwhelming a cautious, defensive team with its speed and goal-scoring intent.

Cameroon made it to the knockout stage with a last-kick-of-thegame goal against New Zealand.

It's worth remembering that this Cameroon team played one solitary game in the year before this tournament. Whatever alchemy it's got will be needed against a brutally efficient England on Sunday.

And there's our mercurial, as yet unknowable, Canada. That loss to the Netherlands means Canada plays Sweden on Monday (3 p.m. ET). It's a stiffer test than wanted or predicted, and a win over Sweden means Canada is likely to face Germany in the quarter-final stage. If you're to believe some coverage, that's terribly ominous.

It isn't. Canada is capable of beating both Sweden and Germany. This sometimes breathtaking and sometimes brittle team has yet to coalesce into a force that plays must-win games. This new and exciting team with several 18-year-old stars hasn't had a proper test. It had already qualified for the next round when it met the Dutch team.

Sweden will provide that test.

Any opponent in a knockout round would provide it. Sweden is a confident, composed but predictable team. A Canadian team playing its ball-retention tactic can stifle Sweden. Both teams are likely to rely on set pieces for goals if there is no early scoring.

Canada's defending is solid for that. And Christine Sinclair is still a genius at grasping set-piece chances.

A brave approach for Canada would be an all-attacking strategy from the start, using Adriana Leon and Nichelle Prince to terrorize a Swedish defence that looked wobbly against fast-moving forwards in the group games.

A prediction: Canada 1, Sweden 0, after extra time.

Assuming Canada wins, a battle against Germany isn't going to be that daunting. Gone are the days when Germany swaggered through tournaments, grinding out narrow victories. It's now a team that tends to blossom as a tournament unfolds, taking a gradual, businesslike approach.

But Germany, like the United States, hasn't faced really threatening teams so far, and is likely to stroll past Nigeria on Saturday. It is also missing its most creative playmaker, Dzsenifer Marozsan, through injury. She might be back for the quarter-finals but is unlikely to be match-fit. A meeting with Canada would then be ideal timing for Germany to get a dose of reality.

There are a number of very attractive matchups in this round.

France against Brazil on Sunday could be torrid for both. France has the weight of host-country expectations and a great reputation. It has the best women's club players outside of the U.S. In the host country, it's assumed the U.S. and France are the two-top teams and the only ones that matter. But Brazil can defend a hard-fought victory with as much determination as it uses in aiming to score. There's a lot of pride at stake.

The Netherlands against Japan on Tuesday will finally settle just how good this Dutch team, as the defending European champion, is. After storming through the Euro tournament two years ago, the team struggled to qualify for this World Cup, suggesting there's a streak of unreliability there. Japan has yet to reach its potential at this World Cup, but can always surprise. Japan won the 2011 World Cup, reached the final four years ago, won the under-17 World Cup in 2014 and the under-20 Cup in 2018. Its defensive, highly technical game can wear down opponents and defeat anybody. It's a world power.

The Saturday-to-Tuesday portion of this tournament will sort the truly talented from the lucky and the striving. All that's predictable is that the U.S. and Germany will move on to the next stage. But all kinds of controversy can erupt. We have already seen farcical situations in which the video-assistant-referee technology was used, abused and misused. The level of refereeing calibre remains deeply uneven.

France could implode. Somebody might even score against the U.S.

Everyone is now under real pressure and there will be tears of joy and disappointment in abundance.


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Canada leaves it too late in loss to Dutch
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Netherlands proves a potent foe, but tardiness is beginning to become a theme for our team
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Friday, June 21, 2019 – Page B12

Canada was beaten 2-1 by the Netherlands on Thursday, the toughest team it has faced so far at this World Cup, and it might well rue its caution in this match and in earlier matches against Cameroon and New Zealand.

This was no tragic loss, nor was it unlucky. The team progresses to the next round and will face Sweden on Monday in Paris.

Canada is ranked fifth in the world, but has been largely under the radar and underrated at the tournament. This match showed why. Canada likes to possess rather than attack and, when it does attack, it lacks the scoring power to deliver. Then, when attacking and scoring is an urgent matter, the effort - usually from substitutes - comes too late to make a difference.

The team selection indicated a more open, attacking and goalscoring approach. Canada wanted to win this one, and get to the top of Group E, thereby looking at a more manageable vista in a route to the final. The Netherlands had scored more goals in its first two games, and what Canada needed was a win and the points that come with it. As it happened, it was a bit tardy in becoming concerned about goals.

The lineup, signalling a 4-3-3 formation was this: Stephanie Labbé; Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, Shelina Zadorsky, Allysha Chapman; Jessie Fleming, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt; Jordyn Huitema, Christine Sinclair, Janine Beckie. The inclusion of 18-year-old Huitema, the best young attacking player Canada has seen in years, suggested coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller wanted an emphatic win. Playing up front with Sinclair and Beckie, Huitema was there to deliver goals and assists.

The Dutch women are champions of Europe and here they showed their mettle. Like all Dutch soccer teams, they aim to appraise the space on the field and use it wisely. For this is a team that's all about owning the midfield. During a good stretch of this game, for all its possession, Canada was playing aimless soccer, unable to stop the Netherlands from bossing that midfield.

It was an entertaining encounter at times and at other times bizarre. The match went strangely awry in the first minute. It was one of the most farcical videoassistant-referee (VAR) review controversies of the World Cup.

After mere seconds, Beckie robbed the ball from Dutch defender Desiree van Lunteren and the referee decided the defender's reaction, which seemed to bring Beckie to the ground, warranted a penalty. Sinclair stood with the ball at the penalty spot while the referee consulted the VAR panel. It took almost four minutes before she reversed her decision and a free kick was awarded to Canada. The incident disturbed the players and affected the balance of the game for a while.

Many midfield battles ensued, the Netherlands winning many of them, and Canada's passing became lax. After 30 minutes, the Dutch were dominant, coming close to scoring several times.

Canada's often exquisite possession game was starting to unravel and the team was riding its luck. It rarely looked threatening and the lack of a striker with a powerful kick was glaring.

Nine minutes into the second half, the Netherlands scored first.

Canada usually defends set pieces with precision, but this wasn't one of those times. Anouk Dekker got in front of Buchanan to meet an excellent free kick, the ball hit her shoulder and spiralled into the corner of the net.

Canada fought back with a new resolve. In the 60th minute, Huitema did what she was selected to do, playing a short, sweet pass to the overlapping Lawrence, who delivered a glorious cross into the goalmouth. Sinclair did what she's been doing for years and slid in to hammer the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

Her 182nd goal for Canada.

Minutes later, Sinclair was taken off, along with Chapman, and replaced by Adriana Leon and Jayde Riviere. Before they had even settled, Dutch substitute Lineth Beerensteyn made it 2-1, taking advantage of a loose ball from a cross that Canadian keeper Labbé should have held.

The final minutes were Canada's best, with Huitema and Leon looking especially dangerous in combination. But it was too late to get a complete grip on the game and the Netherlands.

The "too late" thing is what is coming to characterize Canada at the tournament, as impressive as the team can be. Too late in attacking. Too late in putting on players who can do more than possess and then deliver tame shots. In the knockout round there's no room for tardiness. Or for the procrastination that the possession game mounts to.

Associated Graphic

Shanice van de Sanden of the Netherlands clashes with Canada's Allysha Chapman in Reims, France, on Thursday. The match's final moments were Canada's best, but the team couldn't find a breakthrough despite fine play from Jordyn Huitema and Adriana Leon.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


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TSN's all-women World Cup coverage is revolutionary
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Well-versed, witty group assembled by the Canadian network is a rare and refreshing sight in the world of sportscasting
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Thursday, June 20, 2019 – Page A16

Diana Matheson is a cool customer. One glance from her, one look, one half-smile of skepticism and you understand why she's been the locker-room leader of Canada's women's soccer team for years.

She's a no-nonsense, level-headed leader, and dryly funny.

She's not playing at the FIFA Women's World Cup in France.

An injury ended that plan. Right now, she spends every day in the TSN studio doing analysis and commentary. But one morning this week, I met up with her in a coffee shop in Toronto for a chat about this TV gig and the World Cup.

Is she enjoying the TV gig?

There's a cocked eyebrow. "Yes," she says, and pauses. "Otherwise I'd be at home alone, crying in front of the TV."

I tell her the all-female TSN panel is great and it's a pleasure to witness the knowledgeable commentary. This amounts to an unsubtle suggestion that she's doing really well.

She gives me one of those looks telegraphing her doubt that I would know anything about such things. "Thanks," she replies. "I'm just being myself.

And my mom says I'm doing really well. That's nice to hear."

The entire enterprise by TSN is doing really well, actually.

Canada plays its third and final first-round game at the Women's World Cup on Thursday. It faces the Netherlands in a match that will determine which team tops Group E and thus which opposing teams will be faced in the next, knock-out round.

Yep, if you're unaware, there's a lot of women's soccer on TV right now. Perhaps the championship run by the Raptors sucked up so much attention that the World Cup is still under the radar.

What truly deserves attention, apart from Canada's excellent performance so far, is TSN's allfemale coverage. It's astonishing to see. It shouldn't be, but it is. If you've only experienced the traditional form of male-dominated TV coverage of major sports events, you might look at this twist and ask, "What madness is this?" It's brilliant madness, actually.

Watching it, you are reminded how rare it is to see an all-women team on TV doing analysis and punditry with their knowledge, vigour and wit. Also, by the way, TSN is airing every single game at the tournament, not just Canada's games.

It works so smoothly, this onair gang. Host Kate Beirness is lively, funny, acerbic and concise.

She also knows how to handle the panel. Alongside her is analyst Clare Rustad, who played for the Canada women's national soccer team between 2000 and 2008, and is not new to punditry.

Rustad is the nitpicker of the panel, often highly critical of performance and tactics.

Next to her is Kaylyn Kyle, who won a bronze medal with Canada at the London 2012 Olympic Games and is now retired from the national team.

Kyle is the full-throttle enthusiast, with a ton to say, sometimes running out of time to get her thoughts out.

And then there's Matheson, who scored the bronze-winning goal at the London 2012 Games and also won bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics. She's played in midfield for Canada since 2003.

Matheson is new to this TV punditry thing. She really is very, very good. She plays the realitycheck role, offering sometimes deadpan summaries of what's happening. She can be a hoot.

On the ground in France is Laura Diakun. Doing commentary on live broadcasts of Canada's games beside Luke Wileman, the sole guy on the team, is former national team defender Carmelina Moscato.

All of this is in stark contrast with TSN's coverage of the men's World Cup last year. For the pregame, halftime and postmatch analysis, a small group of guys, most with British accents, sat at a desk and pontificated. That was the template for a panel of experts.

Already, this panel got some international attention, after Kyle and Rustad had harsh words for the U.S. team's wildly exaggerated celebration during a 13-0 victory over Thailand.

This is a panel with great knowledge of the game, huge passion and very strong opinions. And they're funny, sometimes self-deprecating and very shrewd. Over the years, TV soccer coverage has tended to favour former players as analysts and there has been tolerance of these guys - it's always guys - boasting to the hosts and patronizing viewers. These women don't do that.

I asked Matheson if she modelled herself after any broadcaster. "No. I'm just being myself.

What I think is this: Don't say on TV what you wouldn't say to someone's face."

She adds that this TSN gig is not just about her media visibility. "For me, it's just a nice thing to have in your back pocket," she says matter-of-factly. "The visibility thing goes beyond me or having a former women's player on TV. Kids will watch this on TV and see us. They see women, an all-women team on TV. That's the real visibility here."

It's not yet 11 a.m. and Matheson has to get to work. Some days there is triple-header coverage and it's a long day in the studio. As she gets up from the table, the injury that prevented her from playing at the World Cup becomes obvious. A foot is in a heavy cast and she uses a walking crutch that keeps the injured leg horizontal from the knee. It looks awkward to manoeuvre.

"It's fine," she says, as if making a fuss about it is wussy. "Rosie MacLennan, the gymnast, recommended this thing to me. She also loaned me her scooter. I'm fine."

And off she goes to work, a cool customer on the field, in the locker room and on TV.

Associated Graphic

TSN's panel covering the FIFA Women's World Cup features sportscaster Kate Beirness, left, alongside former and current soccer players Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson. On the topic of visibility, Matheson says: 'Kids will watch this on TV and see us. They see women, an all-women team on TV.'


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The Raptors effect: Culture, sports and politics converge
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During Toronto's victory parade on Monday, the nexus between social identity and sport was laid bare: It's about us
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By JOHN DOYLE
  
  

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019 – Page A21

TELEVISION

Then there was a parade and a party, and most people went home happy.

What concluded with the Raptors victory parade in Toronto on Monday was a wild and joyous ride. It lasted for weeks and its effect is not just the team being champions - at last - it's the communal spirit the event created.

That spirit came about not only because the players on the court tried and triumphed. It was born out of this country becoming a village, thanks to TV and the communal experience of large groups of people watching the games in those Jurassic Parks across the country.

Professional sports in North America have been slow to grasp the power of communal viewing parties. Traditionally, it's all about filling the arena and then the TV ratings. Bringing people together to a carnival was an afterthought.

The arena in Toronto holds 20,000 people. It must be nice to be there. But a carnival is a state of mind: imaginative, playful and nourishing a sense of belonging.

The effect is enormous.

Technology can have odd and unexpected effects on society. We live in an age that some people call one of loneliness. We are more connected by social media but less emotionally involved. Our visceral sense of belonging has diminished. And then somebody puts up a giant screen and we are physically there, joined in a rare experience of childish revelry.

It is a deeply gratifying, uplifting feeling, one utterly unfamiliar to most adults in ordinary life.

Over the years, I have written about soccer from 17 countries on four continents. Often, what I was trying to convey was the sense of being there.

Covering multiple World Cups and Euro tournaments is a great privilege, but it's not entirely about the privilege of seeing the best teams and the greatest players. It's about being at the carnival.

Starting with the 1998 World Cup in France, it became stunningly easy to attend and experience the tournament without having a ticket to a single game.

Huge areas in host cities were set aside for visiting fans to show up, eat, drink, party and watch the games on giant screens.

This became the norm and, at tournament after tournament, the event became something vaster than could be transmitted on TV or reported in a newspaper.

At the World Cup in Germany in 2006, some three million people actually attended the games in the stadiums. About 18 million watched those games on the giant screens in the fan zones.

What unfolded in Toronto and so many other cities and towns mimicked that experience: Shared passion unfolding in public, in a spirit of peace, amiability and respect.

The respect is for what is allowable - in this groovy kind of powerful, childlike glee, costumes are allowed and social barriers evaporate as people are immersed in a sea of goodwill and benign partisan belonging. In all my years of being among vast crowds in countless cities around the world, I have never once felt afraid. Most of the time, I've felt among the happiest people on Earth.

The shooting in Toronto during Monday's parade casts a shadow over it, but it is anomalous. So many large gatherings around the Raptors' games have blossomed and gone on for hours and hours without trouble, happening in communal peace.

The victory parade on Monday was just that, a rally to celebrate winning. But it was so large, so public and joyful that it was in fact the culmination of all those massviewing parties.

During those parties, the ones we envied others for attending, the principle that a professional sports championship series is a form of ritual combat between cities or countries begins to shift. In this instance in Toronto and the rest of Canada, the nexus between social identity and sport became obvious. It was about us. Who we are.

Nobody can plan the effect of communal viewing. Culture, sports and politics converge in unknowable ways.

You can just hope that the intoxication comes from a feeling of exuberance that in turn comes from the communal feeling.

The hard-fought victories were delicious, and yet what was truly illuminated was what this country is and what it looks like.

Politicians and political pundits, take note: The Jurassic Parks are us - we are the parks.

Put it on TV, then put it on a giant screen, invite people to come and watch as the carnival unfolds, and you've got a better world for a while because we are reminded who we are.

Associated Graphic

Monday's victory procession marked the culmination of a weeks-long transformation in our culture, one in which the country became a village thanks to TV and the advent of mass-viewing parties from coast to coast.

DAN HAMILTON/USA TODAY SPORTS VIA REUTERS


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Breathtaking Canada wins again, needs only a tweak of boldness to beat everyone
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Monday, June 17, 2019 – Page B12

TORONTO -- There is nothing to stop Canada from going all the way to the final of this Women's World Cup. Nothing perhaps except a new dash of daring.

A weekend of action in which several top teams competed, albeit against lesser opposition, did not put Canada in the spotlight, essentially because it remains bizarrely underrated. But it did serve notice that this is a complete team with arresting depth and assurance.

Canada sealed a place in the knockout second round with an emphatic 2-0 victory over a limited but resolute New Zealand on Saturday in Grenoble, France. The team is now tied with the Netherlands atop Group E with the Dutch ahead only on goal difference.

The essential takeaway is that Canada had 69 per cent of possession, nine shots on target (22 shots in total) and goals from Jessie Fleming in the 48th minute and Nichelle Prince in the 79th. It was as dominant a win as Canada has had in its history. The larger narrative, however, is that of a team playing a beautiful, sometimes breathtaking passing game and still circumspect about direct attack and direct shots.

This might be the best women's team Canada has had. In this, the Canadians' second game at this World Cup, the sweet amalgamation of youth and age was on display. The starting lineup included 18-year-old Jayde Riviere on defence, making only her third start for Canada. She was superbly confident and intrepid. She is half the age of Christine Sinclair, who played the full 90 minutes and came close with two glancing headers, hitting both the upright and the crossbar.

The question that has to be asked, mind you, is why Sinclair is still being asked to play the full game. As adept and artful as she is at finding tiny pockets of space and reading the anatomy of opposition defence, she lacks the full-throttle speed to make full use of her savvy.

It was 38 minutes before New Zealand had the ghost of a chance at a goal.

And that chance came from a rare mistake by Canadian keeper Stephanie Labbé, who might have been rusty in her parrying, so little has she had to do. At that point and at halftime, Canada had been dominant; Sinclair had headed against the bar and Prince's follow-up shot was cleared off the line.

The two goals, when they came, illustrated that Canada's best tactic is to turn all that possession into front-of-goal boldness and direct shots. Prince ran onto a long pass down the left, rushed infield and cut the ball back precisely for Fleming whose sliding first-time shot gave New Zealand keeper Erin Nayler no chance. It was a precision move, as most by Canada are, but the daring part, the part that mattered, was the swift pass to a striker who didn't hesitate. The lack of hesitation, too, was daring in the context.

With 11 minutes left, a gorgeously weighted long pass from Ashley Lawrence found Sinclair's head, the ball hit the post and bobbled and Prince stabbed it into the net.

Then, with that solid 2-0 lead, some changes came. The sublimely poised Janine Beckie was replaced by Rebecca Quinn and, soon after, the formidable Prince was off and Adriana Leon was on. That's the other essential takeaway and the only troubling message from this match - it was a way-late insertion of a player such as Leon, someone who has an intimidating physical presence around the goalmouth and a fierce shot.

There are two ways of assessing the game and the team here.

On the one hand, Canada was dominant with ease, is highly organized and has ballast in both defence and midfield. At times the team looks stunning in possession. On the other hand, it takes too long for the goals to come against inferior teams.

Long-range shots from Canada are rare. There are few players in the starting lineup who even have that thing, that sometimes necessary knack for the wild but unstoppable shot.

So far, so good at this tournament. But Canada will meet tougher opposition as it unfolds.

It needs to go from third gear to first, from blithe possession to full-bore attacking style. And do it earlier. Maybe Sinclair, for all her experience and value, should be used tactically and sparingly.

No one has the right to criticize her, but reality demands a rethink, a tweak, even when the team looks crushingly good.

The United States played Sunday, inflicting a 3-0 defeat on Chile. It was a second-string team, with seven changes in personnel from its first game. For a short while it looked like a repeat of that 13-0 rout of Thailand was on the cards. But, no - Chile began to coalesce into an effective defensive mode. Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler had an excellent second half, making nine saves. You could say she rescued Chile from humiliating defeat, but that would be to misread the game. She saw most of those shots coming as the U.S.

team fell into a predictable pattern.

The U.S. bubble is there to be burst. Its defence hasn't been tested and keeper Alyssa Naeher hasn't really faced full-blooded attack. The word "rusty" wouldn't do justice to her situation. Sweden, which plays the United States next, beat Thailand 5-1 and will be the first serious opposition the Americans have faced.

It's long road to the final. Canada is cruising and a better-calibre team than we've seen before.

A dash of blunt-force attacking is all that's lacking.

Associated Graphic

Canada defender Kadeisha Buchanan vies with New Zealand forward Rosie White during a Women's World Cup Group E match on Saturday in Grenoble, France. Canada has shown how adept it is in both defence and midfield.

JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


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Controversial Euphoria is as lurid as advertised, and a great trip
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Saturday, June 15, 2019 – Page A20

Every now and then, along comes a TV series that attracts the shocked-and-appalled attention of right-wing conservatives in the United States. Often before it even airs.

You can usually tell that controversy is being cooked up when coverage makes regular appearances on the online Drudge Report.

Euphoria (starts Sunday, 10 p.m. Crave/HBO) is one such show. Produced by Drake, created by Sam Levinson (writer of The Wizard Of Lies, which was directed by his dad, Barry Levinson) and based on an Israeli series, Euphoria might be called HBO's first attempt at a teen drama. But it's being called "toxic" and "grossly inappropriate," too. In news stories, it is noted that one episode features 30 penises. It is made to sound lurid and shocking.

It is neither. Yes, it's soaked in sex and drugs as advertised. But unless you're stunned by the news that teenagers indulge in drugs, casual sex and have expert knowledge of porn, it isn't so shocking at all. In fact, it is a gorgeously made, rather bleak but sensitive portrait of a particular generation. On the evidence of the first four episodes, be not afraid of it. The series takes the view that teenagers stumble through the arenas of getting high, having sex and dealing with peer pressure and depression as though their parents didn't exist.

Who would be shocked by that?

Besides, it's engrossing, seriousminded adult storytelling.

Mainly, it's about Rue (Disney Channel star and singer Zendaya, who is fabulously good), a 17year-old high-school junior who, when we meet her, is out from a stint at rehab and back at school.

The thing about Rue is that, as she says in a coolly deadpan voiceover, "I had no intention of staying clean." One day back and she's scoring drugs from a kid who is even younger than her and appears to be running a drug empire. Rue fills us in about herself. Born three days after 9/11, she was eventually diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, anxiety and is probably bipolar.

She doesn't care. She figures some of it might be true, some of it lies. The anxiety she pleads to.

But she lies, too. A lot. Mainly, she's interested in being high.

Her world teems with teenage girls like her. They're not as obsessed with drugs but they are obsessed with their bodes, boyfriends and zoning out. They're all anxious, sarcastic and some are as full of self-loathing as Rue is usually full of some drug or other.

Early on, there is a scene typical of teen TV dramas and movies. A local boy throws a house party. A bullying jock, Nate (Jacob Elordi), has a temper-tantrum when his ex has sex with another guy in the pool. He takes his rage out randomly on Jules (Hunter Schafer), a young woman nobody knows, and she turns stunningly violent in response. What the other characters don't realize and the viewer does is that Jules is a transgender teen who has just come from motel-room sex with a stranger, a much older man.

Jules and Rue become fast friends.

What follows is a mind-bending journey for both. And literally mind-bending for the viewer as the show depicts visually the strung-out state that Rue often occupies. She likes fast-acting psychedelic drugs. The series has a loose, drugged-out structure, entering and exiting storylines.

There's a lot of stuff about porn.

But it always returns to the eerily painful and utterly gripping story of Rue.

ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND Goalie (Saturday, CBC, 9 p.m.) is an excellent, poetic and sometimes forlorn biopic of NHL legend Terry Sawchuk. Directed by Adriana Maggs, and written by her sister Jane, it is loosely based on Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, written by her father, Randall Maggs. Highly recommend for an original approach to the story of Sawchuk (Mark O'Brien) from flashes of his childhood to his death in a drink-fuelled fight at the age of 40.

The Good Fight (Sunday, CBS, 9 p.m.) brings the spin-off from The Good Wife to CBS's main network after airing on its streaming channel. It opens with the first two episodes. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), at the pinnacle of her career, is in financial ruin just as the Trump inauguration unfolds.

The most anti-Trump series of all, it has a crazy energy but it remains to be seen how much will be stripped from the rather manic streaming version.

Associated Graphic

Singer Zendaya stars in HBO's Euphoria, which follows a group of high-school students as they navigate sex, drugs and social media.


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Cautious Canada needs to stop passing and start scoring
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If the team doesn't find a way to create more excitement for fans, its group opponents are the least of its worries
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Saturday, June 15, 2019 – Page S11

TORONTO -- The Canadian women's team will have its destiny at its own feet when it plays New Zealand in Grenoble, France, on Saturday. The other two teams in Group E at this World Cup, the Netherlands and Cameroon, will have already played earlier in the day.

After a nervy 1-0 victory over Cameroon, Canada has a chance to hold a solid grip on the group and be certain that it progresses to the knockout stage. What it needs most, mind you, is goals and more goals. That first match underscored that Canada's most striking issue is Canada's striker problem. It doesn't have one, most of the time. This is a team that has been anchored around Christine Sinclair for so long it has become obeisant to her. The result is a lack of ruthlessness.

In truth, Canada has also benefited from obedient and deferential media coverage. It underperformed at two previous World Cup tournaments but has an aura of lovable, unlucky triers rather than underachievers. With a team as neatly coalesced around veterans and youth as this one, the underachieving has to stop.

On paper, Canada faces little genuine threat from New Zealand or the Netherlands. Both are inferior teams. What Canada really faces is an existential threat.

Unless the team begins to sparkle on the field and score, the unthinking, dutiful support will start to erode. What looms most ominously is indifference.

This team could be its own worst enemy. Against Cameroon, Canada had 65-per-cent possession, seven shots on target, five off-target and 10 corners. The attacking intent was there but the finishing wasn't. For a long period, Nichelle Prince was the most potent player on the field, hitting the outside of the post just before Kadeisha Buchanan's goal, and also came close to scoring with one terrific shot.

Facing New Zealand, Canada needs more of the kind of propulsive power that Prince has. It might also need Adriana Leon (15 goals in 57 appearances for her country) in the goalmouth, where her physical presence tends to lead to goals. In that Cameroon match, Canada completed 469 passes (the opposition completed 101), an excellent statistic, but passing doesn't win games. The passing is something to admire, but not root for.

And this is a World Cup that is starting to explode with goalscoring. Leaving aside the United States's rapacious 13-0 victory over Thailand, the goals are coming thick and fast. Italy, now the tournament's overachieving bombshell team, put five goals past Jamaica. Australia came from behind against Brazil in a wonderfully dramatic game to win 3-2.

In New Zealand, Canada faces a team feeling aggrieved and looking for points. It lost 0-1 to the Netherlands in the 92nd minute and bitter disappointment was evident. Besides, New Zealand is one of those women's teams hungry for respect. The Australian team has long overshadowed it in the home region and while it routinely qualifies for a World Cup, it rarely makes any impression. In the game against the Netherlands, New Zealand looked composed and often dangerous. Midfielder Olivia Chance - a player currently without a club and back from a year-long injury layoff - struck the underside of the crossbar after 12 minutes with a glorious strike and she tormented the opposition for good periods with her pinpoint passing.

Unlike Cameroon, New Zealand won't create a defensive wall and hope for a lucky break. It's certain to be a more open game.

The word out of Canada's camp in France is that the team is relaxed and fully prepared. Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller is optimistic. It all sounds anodyne.

Like a well-rehearsed team of actors doing a routine performance, the ensemble cast here feels it knows its lines and choreography very, very well.

Fine, but the time for careful stage-management is ending.

Unfettered, unfiltered energy is what the audience wants and that energy had better produce goals.

Associated Graphic

The Canadian women's team has a striker problem. The group has revolved around captain Christine Sinclair for so long, it has become overly deferential to her and lost its edge as a result.

JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER/REUTERS


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An obnoxious team? It's the American way
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U.S. showboating in 13-0 win over Thailand earned the typical tut-tuts, but nobody should be surprised
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Thursday, June 13, 2019 – Page B15

We should be immensely grateful to the United States women's team for that 13-0 victory over Thailand, and the gross showboating celebrations after each and every goal.

We should express gratitude because the game and the celebratory behaviour emphatically revealed the U.S. women's team to be what it truly is: overpoweringly good and obnoxious.

It's all very well to tut-tut in that mildly condescending Canadian way, as Kaylyn Kyle and Clare Rustad did on TSN. Then some Americans reacted with fury and threats. Of course they did.

It's how they behave. They shouldn't, but they do. Acting surprised about it is a tad disingenuous.

Listen, the U.S. women's team is going to supersize it, no matter what. Its players will keep scoring goals if they have the chance.

When they celebrate, they won't tone it down as the victory becomes a rout. They will supersize it. It's what they do; it's what defines the U.S. culture the team has emerged from. It's what defines the team.

In women's soccer, the U.S. is a superpower. A superpower doesn't dwell on the indignity done to others by unsavoury boasting in victory. America is No.

1 and perpetuating American primacy is job one.

This is not to condemn the team. That would be redundant.

There is so much about the American women's team that's admirable. The whole world of women's soccer looks to its players for leadership on issues of pay equity. They've fought hard, launched lawsuits and stood up to their own soccer federation. When's the last time Canadian women's players stood up to the Canadian Soccer Association? Exactly.

Individual American players are commendable figures. They support progressive causes at home. Megan Rapinoe was the first white professional athlete to take a knee during the U.S. anthem in 2016, in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

There are haters who want Rapinoe removed from the women's team for her perceived lack of patriotism.

But what Rapinoe and colleagues do as progressives is about the U.S. It's an internal thing. Expecting the U.S. women's team to care about the dignity of Thailand's players is like expecting Donald Trump to care about the dignity of Thailand's workers when he's conducting one of his trade wars. Rapinoe and Trump might be on opposite sides in a culture war, but they are linked by shared belief in American triumphalism.

Part of the problem, always, with these controversies about sporting behaviour is the widespread but ludicrous belief that it's about the kids. In Canada there exists in some quarters a catatonically idiotic idea that, not only is it the purpose of sport to teach kids life lessons, but that those lessons should be uplifting.

This is, in essence, a belief in the superiority of fiction.

A World Cup, whether it has men or women playing, is not fiction. It's not actually about lovable underdogs getting their reward, no matter how much some people want to attach that narrative to a tournament. It's reality and, in reality, sometimes people are awful. They behave badly.

Sometimes they win. And when they win they will rub it in, with relish. So learn to lose, and fight another day. It builds character.

That's what kids should take from it all.

What soccer fans can take from that controversial 13-0 victory is that we are still ignorant about the strengths and weaknesses of this U.S. team. An absurd mismatch in quality and then giddy celebration tells us nothing.

They're a team in transition. In recent months playing against top opposition, the U.S. has leaked goals. It has relied heavily on tactics and formations that look laboured and unimaginative. In the game against Thailand, it became clear that coach Jill Ellis loaded the team selection and substitutions with strikers to give them a taste of scoring goals at a World Cup. It was all about motivation, not manoeuvres and tactics on the field.

Disapprove of the cocky celebrations all you want. The only way to defeat American triumphalism is to beat the team, on the field, with goals. That can be done. And it will be savoured all the more.


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Plot twist: Suddenly, U.S. TV viewers want to see the Raptors
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Wednesday, June 12, 2019 – Page A19

TELEVISION

Oh, so now they're interested.

Now we have their attention.

Last week I was telling you about the fear and the handwringing in the U.S. TV racket about the presence of the Raptors in the NBA Finals.

Normally, the Finals are a ratings slam-dunk for the broadcaster, in this case ABC. The first Warriors/ Raptors game on ABC brought a 10year low in the overnight ratings. Cue the consternation. Damn that Canadian team for making it this far and, of course, for failing to galvanize American viewers.

Well now. Things change. Monday night's nail-biter and series-extending game gave ABC its best overnight ratings of these NBA Finals to date.

There was a huge jump, pun intended. The Warriors' 106-105 victory brought the 34-per-cent growth from the average ratings of the first four games. Thirty-four per cent. The sound of a collective "phew" could be heard from inside the offices of ABC in Los Angeles, no doubt so loud it spooked people on the street outside.

What's going on here? Well, it's always possible that a lot of people tuned in to ABC on Monday night expecting to see The Bachelorette, which usually takes up hours of programming on Mondays on the network.

It's not implausible. No way. American TV viewers are a tad eccentric, you know. Why, the other day, I looked at the online version of Cosmopolitan magazine, my go-to bible for cogent guidance of the popular culture. It said right there: "Watching The Bachelorette every Monday is obviously the most important thing we can do as American citizens."

See that? Maybe millions of viewers watched the Warriors/Raptors game by accident. They expected to see Hannah B. continue her thorough and fair-minded search for a good man by surveying shirtless dudes who have a knack for talking about themselves. Then, these viewers kept on watching to see the drama of Kevin Durant's cameo appearance and exit and the late surge by the Raptors. Maybe the sight of Steph Curry chewing on the end of his mouthguard had them transfixed with mothering instincts for this man-child.

In all seriousness, there are truths to be mined here (Not that I don't take The Bachelorette seriously. It's irresistible - there's a contestant vying for Hannah B.'s attention, who says one of his hobbies is donating his sperm and he's helped "create 114 children for all types of families.").

Viewer numbers always go up for a possible series-ending game, and that's what Monday night was supposed to be. But 34 per cent is out of whack. It's not a mere bump.

A possible truth is that the viewers in the United States are now genuinely interested in a great basketball series. Maybe they were unfamiliar with the Raptors and now they're actually intrigued. The skill, the passion, the dogged refusal to be intimidated by reigning champions or reputations.

The U.S. media in general have been baffled by the Raptors and their success. Scornful, even. Jimmy Kimmel is still trotting out his anti-Raptors snark. "Those pesky poutine machines, the Raptors of Toronto" was one of his lines on Monday. (It takes about 14 people to write his material, would you believe?) Kimmel has already enraged former Raptor DeMar DeRozan by airing an unfunny skit made last year when the chap was with the Toronto team.

It's a challenge, you see. It's a challenge for the deeply conventional U.S. sports media to lift their gaze toward Toronto and the Raptors. As much as the NBA courts TV and other media coverage, the Raptors present a puzzle. Not only is Toronto considered a weird outpost of the NBA, its great players don't give what U.S. TV wants. Try making a soundbite that might go viral from something Kawhi Leonard says. Just try it.

It won't happen. He's not given to boasting or trash-talking. He makes exquisitely gnomic remarks that make you think. The nerve of that guy.

And now ABC is sending out press releases boasting about the ratings for these NBA Finals. Suddenly, U.S.

viewers are more interested. (Locally, last Friday's fourth Raptors/Warriors game had a staggering 3.5 million viewers on TSN and Monday's fifth game on Sportsnet is certain to exceed that.) It's the quality of the basketball, obviously. The ratings have shot up. Hey handwringers and gloomy pundits, how do you like our Raptors now?


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Canada wins a torrid World Cup opener
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Women's side beats Cameroon 1-0, but offensive issues may be a cause for concern
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Tuesday, June 11, 2019 – Page B15

TORONTO -- There are several stories that emerge from Canada's first game at this World Cup. The main one is a 1-0 victory: A hardfought one over a resilient, intense Cameroon on Monday evening in France. A vital step, but one that should make supporters nervous. The goals don't come easily to this team.

Another story is Sincy. The glorious, indefatigable Christine Sinclair. Go ahead, call her Sincy.

Everybody does and she doesn't mind. There she stands, on the cusp of surpassing the career goal-scoring record in men's and women's international soccer.

Going into Monday's game, Sinclair was three short of the record of 184 goals held by former U.S.

World Cup winner Abby Wambach. The 35-year-old Sinclair is playing in her fifth tournament and scored 181 goals in 281 senior appearances.

In the closing minutes of this raw, physical encounter she came close again and again. She didn't score. There's disappointment in the air about that, and there should be nervousness that she's still so relied upon.

These days Sinclair plays deep.

She is not the focus of Canada's attack. She simply doesn't have the speed to sprint forward constantly and terrorize defenders with her superfast reaction. Set pieces are her wheelhouse and she prowls rather than speeding in toward the opponent's goal. It's up to others to get the goals.

Canada played a conventional 4-4-2 formation: keeper Stephanie Labbé; Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, Shelina Zadorsky, Allysha Chapman; Nichelle Prince, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt, Janine Beckie; Sinclair and Jessie Fleming. But it never quite looked like just two at the front. It was an attacking midfield all game and, eventually it worked.

Less than two minutes in, it was all bustle from Canada and tussle from Cameroon. Two corners and a free kick near the Cameroon goal gave Canada chances that came to nothing and mostly gave evidence that Cameroon was here to tackle hard and intimidate. The same ragged, but often thrilling pattern continued for ages - Canada attacking down the middle, or speeding down the wings, being crowded off the ball and Cameroon looking for a quick counterattack.

Beckie was key for Canada, playing clever one-two balls with Fleming on the edge of the Cameroon penalty area. This was a confident, cutting Canadian team, dominating possession and alert for those counterattacks.

Chapman was as vital at the back as Beckie was at the front, tireless in chasing down the ball before the lone Cameroon attacker had much from it. Labbé was untroubled. She could have knitted a sweater for all her hands were needed.

Prince came close near the end of the first half. Then it happened, off yet another Canadian corner.

Buchanan, as always, came forward and with a late run connected well to head the ball into the Cameroon goal. At last, after almost 70-per-cent possession by Canada.

Cameroon clearly felt it was possible to gain points from the game, even as Canada's torrid attacking pace continued at the start of the second half. A double substitution gave the team an oomph. In truth Canada's collective effort was looking exhausted at that point.

Claudine Meffometou almost had a replay of Buchanan's goal in the 70th but her header off a corner was just wide. It was easily Cameroon's best chance, but the core of the story was Canada's failure to wrest more goals from all that attack and possession.

There is a lot to savour here. A lot to admire about this version of Canada's women's team. Canada's staging of the Women's World Cup in 2015 came at the wrong time for the national team.

It was a team of veterans and their true collective strength was unknowable, since they automatically qualified as hosts. They were quarter-finalists on home soil in 2015, they won bronze at the Olympics a year later and going into the tournament in France they had gone nine games unbeaten.

They look composed, tough and terrifically organized. They just don't have the extra threat, the sharpness in front of goal that's needed to trouble, not merely defeat a team such as Cameroon. It's still Sincy as main threat when the emphatic win is needed.

Cameroon was never going to be a pushover. The country has a long and proud soccer tradition.

The stunning success of the Cameroon men's team at the World Cup in Italy in 1990 announced the arrival of African soccer on the biggest stage. Displaying a remarkable combination of ball skills, brazenly on show, and toughness, the team mesmerized the soccer world. And, Cameroon defeated Argentina, Romania and Colombia before losing narrowly to England in the quarter-finals.

The women's team was the bombshell factor in Canada four years ago, the only African team to make it to the knockout stage.

The women rarely lose. But hardly anyone pays attention to women's soccer in Africa, so the details of tactics and strategies are largely unknown. That's what a World Cup, men's or women's, is about - revelations and surprises.

The main revelation here, the main and troubling narrative, is that Canada can control torrid games but struggles to score. It was a vital win with a scary subtext.

Associated Graphic

Canadian captain Christine Sinclair tries to connect on a shot against Cameroon in Montpellier, France, on Monday, during her team's World Cup opener. To the disappointment of many soccer fans, Sinclair did not score in Canada's 1-0 win - and there should be nervousness that she's still so relied upon.

CLAUDE PARIS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


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Watch this: One unheralded horror classic on Netflix
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Monday, June 10, 2019 – Page A16

TELEVISION

I know, I know. As if you didn't have enough on your plate, with the Raptors, the Women's World Cup and a substantial batch of new and returning series arriving in June. And here I am suggesting another must-see series.

But, heed me here. This one's a startlingly different kind of horror series. It isn't so much summer fun as it is a daring dose of the shivers.

And meaningful, too.

Black Summer (now streaming on Netflix) is an unheralded little masterpiece of the zombie-apocalypse genre. Don't be put off by "zombie apocalypse." This is not like The Walking Dead or any of its spinoffs.

It's formally brilliant, politically loaded, terse and terrifying. No less than Stephen King recently took to Twitter to point to it and called it, "Existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone."

It is all that. The stripped-to-thebone element is one reason why it's breathtaking. Some episodes are 20 minutes long. Others come in at about 45 minutes. Dialogue is often sparse and the pacing is relentless, often using hand-held cameras to speed up the scenes. Sometimes, more is said in the title-cards that describe episodes and sequences than in the full drama that unfolds.

The series (created by Karl Schaefer, who was also did Z Nation), immediately thrusts you into the bland suburbs of the United States just after a zombie apocalypse has struck. The streets are mostly empty and frightening in their deserted blankness. The army is rounding people up, but in a panicky way, promising to take survivors to a stadium where they will be safe. We meet a mom, dad and their little girl. What happens to dad is best left unsaid. Mom Rose (Jaime King) is separated from her daughter. She sets out to get to the stadium and find her. That's the plot.

On her journey, she encounters various people, some afraid and dangerous, some brave but menacing. The series continually shifts from one group of characters to another. Sometimes, they intersect later, and sometimes they disappear. Don't start to like anyone on this series, is my advice. To some viewers, accustomed to more formulaic TV storytelling, the terseness is frustrating. Others will savour the sheer panache of telling a genre story in a different way. One episode simply has one guy being chased by one zombie. Barely a word is spoken. One character who recurs, Kyungsun (Christine Lee) is Korean, speaks almost no English and her dialogue in Korean isn't subtitled.

A standout aspect is how the zombies are presented. These are not the shuffling, staggering-along critters of The Walking Dead and other productions. Once these monsters turn zombie, they turn angry. You have never seen such focused rage. And they are fast, too, speedily chasing a victim with fierce intensity. Given the permission through the infection, they are unhinged in their hostility.

It's here, I think, the series takes on a larger meaning. While Stephen King talks "Existential hell in the suburbs" it's also possible to see these monsters as emanations of Donald Trump's America. They are angry people. They are, for the most part, rather ordinary figures before they are infected. Then they become enraged and exist as pure fury. They are Trump's base.

And for all the sharp pacing and speed of the action, there is also a subtle meditation going on, perhaps, on the role of the military in American society, on fear of foreigners and on the matter of misogyny. The latter is at the core of one stunning episode in which Rose is trapped in a place where women are preyed upon relentlessly.

Unlike The Walking Dead, which exists as a continuing series of attempts by survivors to establish a civilized society in the face of surrounding horror and the breakdown of normalcy, Black Summer suggests civility is impossible. It's one narrow escape after another and few people can be trusted. Even fewer are worth trusting. It has the feel of a novel, something like Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic story The Road, but without the tenderness of that novel.

You want chills and no-nonsense storytelling, plus something to think about, you've got it in Black Summer. I know, I know. But, you're welcome.


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This Women's World Cup is already gripping and contentious
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Monday, June 10, 2019 – Page B10

TORONTO -- The clamour of sports events is really loud right now: The NBA Finals, the golf tournament, the tennis, the show jumping, the baseball and there is probably some event not on this list but has people enraptured.

Certainly there's a lot of soccer. In Portugal, an implausibly complex minitournament is being played to determine who qualifies for next year's Euro 2020. In South America, there is a hush as Lionel Messi is playing down Argentina's chances at the Copa America.

In this clamorous arena, the Women's World Cup is unfolding splendidly. Not loudly yet, but after three days of play, it's clear: This World Cup is a gripping, gratifying event. The drama is developing nicely and some of the top teams in the world, including Canada, have yet to play. Plus, if you want to argue with a referee, just step inside.

Friday's opener with France playing South Korea showcased a highly skilled, tactically shrewd host country. The 4-0 victory for France might, for a while, have led to some thoughts about this World Cup being about a handful of great teams playing against forlorn but brave opposition. That's not actually the case, and the evidence was there in Saturday's and Sunday's matches. There's drama, controversy and upset victories.

Italy stunned Australia on Sunday, winning 2-1 in stoppage time, in what was an underdog victory for the ages. The highly rated Australia, an immensely driven team with expectations of making the semi-finals in France, was pushed to its limits and found wanting as an Italian team - the country's women's team hasn't played at a World Cup in 20 years - came from behind with skill and cunning. Having two goals disallowed for offside did not deter the Italians.

Once upon a time, it could be said that there is nothing romantic or enchanting about Italy's men's team progressing solidly through a tournament. They're always good; there's no surprise. But the men's team failed to qualify for last year's World Cup in Russia. Now the women's team, ranked 15th in the world, nine places below Australia, is the team to watch.

The best thing about any tournament is its capacity to surprise, and that's happening.

Sunday's third game between England and Scotland also had a few surprises. England has kept improving since its strong run at the World Cup in Canada four years ago (the team eliminated Canada in the quarter-finals), and is currently ranked third in the world, shockingly ahead of Canada. A game against Scotland had the whiff of intense rivalry, and while Scotland lost 2-1, England can hardly be pleased with the narrow victory.

Both teams play a conventional game, relying on speedy players on the flanks to supply the ball to strikers in the penalty area, and in this tense but conventional contest, Scotland only lacked a touch of daring. Striker Erin Cuthbert was left isolated at the front for long periods as Scotland huffed and puffed in defensive mode until late in the game. A tweaked tactical formation and a bit of reckless attacking play, and Scotland will do a lot better.

The word "reckless" can also be applied to the use of video-assisted review (VAR) at the tournament. That's the key controversy. Several games have seen bizarre, unnecessary stoppages as diligent referees - told to be superdiligent by FIFA, presumably - have reviewed alleged handball infringements and awarded inappropriate penalties. In this instance, England's Fran Kirby lobbed a cross toward a teammate in the penalty box and it hit the arm of Scotland's Nicola Docherty, accidentally. Somebody at VAR HQ told referee Jana Adamkova, via her earpiece, and after a pause a penalty was awarded.

The traditional rule, which distinguishes between hand-to-ball (deliberate and therefore penalized) and ball-to-hand (accidental and no big deal), seems to have been erased and is replaced by an unconscionable zero-tolerance policy. It will bring havoc as this World Cup unfolds to its knock-out stage.

Brazil was also awarded a dubious penalty for handball in its 3-0 victory over a surprisingly spirited and determined Jamaica. In this case, a lackadaisical penalty kick by Andressa Alves was easily stopped by Jamaica's 19-year-old keeper Sydney Schneider. In fact, Schneider was spectacular throughout and her multiple saves, some remarkably agile, could make her the first breakout newcomer of this tournament.

Germany, ranked second in the world, struggled to beat a fiercely determined China 1-0 and the result flattered Germany. Spain had a 3-1 victory over South Africa in another game marred by dubious penalty-kick decisions. Three days in and this Women's World Cup is starting to seethe; with upsets, goals galore and the cruelty of controversial decisions. It's going to get very loud.


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