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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Television: Endings and Beginnings

Just a few hours to go until the crystal ball drops in Times Square and 2015 exits much as it came in under a cold, dark New York City night.  One of my end year thoughts turn to two television shows, one which ended this year and one which began that I haven't commented on in previous posts.

Mad Men ended its 7 season run squarely focused on its lead character Don Draper who seemed to ditch his family and career in search of... well viewers were not so sure as his road trip lasted most of the last season and by the final episode Don was in a California coastal ashram.  The final shot of Don giving a knowing smile as the famous Coca-Cola ad "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" played gave viewers, depending on their interpretation, a possible happy ending for Don as you could see the spark of genius come to him to create that famous ad after his series long search for happiness, fulfillment and enlightenment came to an end.

I especially liked the scene played before the very end when Don was in a group session and he listened to another group member almost describe his day by day mundane existence in his job.  Did Don react with compassion because this true to his experience?  Again, that interpretation is left for the viewer.

One aspect of Mad Men that was so good was that you never were sure which direction the show would go.  The supporting cast was very good and the writing was excellent. 

While one show ended its run another, coincidentally also on AMC network, began last winter.  Better Call Saul began and filled in some of the back story of Breaking Bad's "Criminal" Lawyer Saul Goodman.  The first episode opened with Saul Goodman laying low from the authorities with a new identity working at a Cinnabon concession in a shopping mall.  Later at home, he entertains himself by watching commercials of Saul Goodman.

The show expanded the world of Saul Goodman, to include his brother another lawyer, who is highly esteemed and part of a successful practice.  His brother also has some odd issues of his own (I won't describe as I recommend you watch if you haven't already).  Also the character of Mike Ehrmantrout, played by the fantastic Jonathan Banks, lives again in this Breaking Bad prequel.  His relationship with Jimmy McGill, not yet Saul Goodman, is very funny initially.  There were also several wacky characters introduced this season including the husband and wife embezzlers: The Kettlemans. 

Better Call Saul, again like Breaking Bad, starts with a simple premise, what causes an otherwise good person to turn, or break bad.  The seeds for Jimmy/Saul's descent towards becoming the "CRIMINAL" lawyer we first met in Breaking Bad were sown in this first season and towards the end of the season a rift with his brother, over a huge case begun by Jimmy.  This seems to be one major step, among unrevealed others, leading towards Jimmy's decent and the birth of Saul Goodman.  There's no turning back for Jimmy  and I can't wait to see what's ahead in 2016.  Bob Odenkirk plays Jimmy McGill and his comedic stylings and timing bring his character to life.  I don't recall many successful shows trying this concept of a prequel but it works for Better Call Saul.

Have a great 2016 everyone.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Time is Here 2015

Here is a post made a few years ago after Christmas.  I've made some slight changes and additions, however the message remains the same as when I wrote the post.  Merry Christmas to all.

Christmas Day has come and gone. (In another 24 hours)  The commercial onslaught by retailers both brick and mortar and online which began after Halloween (and on Thanksgiving Day) has subsided somewhat.  Now the push (will be) towards those after-Christmas and New Year's sales.  (Today, I spent some time running to get a few errands done and tonight my wife), Aimee made a delicious dinner after spending much of her day in the kitchen.  (Now, I'm happy all the children are secure in their bed and they are so excited to open their presents tomorrow from Santa Claus).

As they fell asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their head, I took the opportunity to clean the kitchen.  While cleaning, I tuned into New York's WQXR looking to listen to some holiday classical music.  Instead I was treated to an old fashioned radio play:  Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  The radio play starred F Murray Abraham as Scrooge. (For this year, WQXR had a radio broadcast with Kathleen Turner as Scrooge, I've included the 2013 version starring actor Tony Roberts as Scrooge, enjoy)

I listened to the performance and enjoyed it very much.   The conversion of Scrooge, with the help of Marley and the three spirits, from being an individual who is cold, closed off to others and lacking in spirit to being one that is kind towards others, generous with his wealth and grateful is worth examining within ourselves during this holiday season. 

Like Scrooge, there have been many occasions which I've felt Christmas is a humbug, an excuse to spend money for things not really needed but then I realize that the greatest gifts during this season aren't those my children (will be unwrapping) on Christmas morning.  No the best gifts this season include the time spent with family and friends, the generosity I can display to those in need, and the ability to keep that spirit up throughout the year ahead.  This I suspect will be the most challenging to do but noble to try. 

What are your challenges facing you in the year ahead?  Does the conversion of Scrooge offer any lesson to your lives?  I'd love to hear back from you so drop me a comment or two.