Wednesday, January 7, 2015

LIZ SMITH: The Time of the Season ...

Maggie Smith — Holding rank even before “Downton Abbey.”
Wednesday, January 7, 2014
by Liz Smith

IT'S The Time of the Season — Debuts, Finales — Who Irritated The Countess? ... Who Didn't Carrie Sleep With? ... Who's The Biggest Betrayer on "The Affair?"

“PRINCIPLES are like prayers, noble, but awkward at a party.” So says Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Of course, that is actress Maggie Smith, in character on PBS’s “Downton Abbey.”
The Dowager Countess.
Maggie/Violet uttered that piece of advice on the season premiere of “DA” last Sunday night. The opening episode of the fifth season was fairly mild. No rapes. No trials. Nobody died.

But confessions were made, a villain almost sacked (does evil footman Barrow have a pact with the Devil, always just escaping exposure for his dirty deeds?) and there was hanky-panky between a louche upper-class lady with another cute Downton footman. (Not Barrow — he doesn’t serve dinner on that side of table.)
The fiery romance.
The Fire.
It’s good to have “Downton” back. There are other series I enjoy, but knowing you’ll not have to sit through an hour — or more likely 45 minutes — of expletives, naked, flailing body parts and an all too familiar modern-day angst, renders “Downton’s” issues, even when death or unhappiness comes, rather like a hot toddy. Quite comforting.

Oh, and this is a warning to the producers of “Downton Abbey.” I’ve never heard that Maggie Smith is a demanding diva, or anything less than a great professional. But if for some reason, Maggie ever wants to leave the stately halls of Downton, or suddenly develops a massive ego — just give her whatever she wants, period. Dame Maggie’s presence, even if she’s confined to only five or six lines and innumerable piercing glances, is invaluable to the show. If she goes, just burn the estate to the ground.
SPEAKING OF those other shows, after a season that at first meandered then got down to tense, excellent business, Showtime’s “Homeland” finished up Season 4 with a shockingly weak episode. Viewers have made it clear that they are not interested in the private lives of the characters, especially our favorite heavily medicated bi-polar CIA operative Carrie Mathison.

But the star, Claire Danes, who is one of the show’s executive producers, does care, and so after several stunning episodes of action, we had to meet, in the finale, Carrie’s mother, half-brother, linger with the child that Carrie is so ambivalent about, and generally waste our time. Carrie and Peter Quinn (sexy Rupert Friend) finally kissed. But Carrie, who is the kiss of death for all men in her orbit, had to ponder going further.

Good grief, what is there to think about? So, you’re kind of a black widow spider. Use a long cigarette holder, wear an inappropriate evening gown; embrace your fatal charm. If we have to deal with Carrie’s personal life, at least give us Mr. Friend!

Fans await Season Five, which won’t air for months and months, with jaundiced, disappointed eyes.
SHOWTIME delivered a much, much better finale for season one of “The Affair.” This series, with its alternating POVs — the two adulterous main characters recall the details of their romance and the dramatic circumstances that befall the other characters — quite differently. This one, starring Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson, began slowly, but built gradually. Every week another log of deception or revelation was thrown on the fire, culminating in one of the most intense series finales ever.
The marriage.
There’s nary a genuinely likeable character on the show. But all are quite human in their flaws. You don’t want to pitch them over a precipice, just give them a good wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee shoulder shake. (Kathleen Chalfant, Mare Winningham and Deirdre O’Connell who play mothers to various “Affair” protagonists, are the only truly loathsome characters. Forget smelling the coffee, just pitch these dames over the precipice.)
The marriage.
Yes, it was a cliffhanger, but what a cliffhanger!

“The Affair” has been nominated for three Golden Globes, including well-deserved acting nods for West and Wilson.
The affair.
AS THE WORLD turns: Maybe general readers don't care that the Mayor of New York (Bill de Blasio) and the police ranks have a feud going on about alleged copbrutality, racism, discipline and respect.

But I want to comment on one of my favorite TV shows,“Blue Bloods," which seems prescient about what is going on in NYC these days. The Al Sharpton/cops vs. the mayor vs. the publicstandoff seems like it already happened on "Blue Bloods.”
Two policeCommissioners (the current one, Tom Selleck and the old-timer, Len Cariou) and their unbelievably attractive District Attorney daughter/grand daughter (an excellent Bridget Moynahan) and the rest of their copfamily (Will Estes as the young questioning rookie) ... assorted grandkids ... and the action-packed "hero" detective son (Donnie Wahlberg) and hislong-suffering wife (Amy Carlson, also very good) sit around a family table frequently and discuss the week’s crimes, have legal and ethical arguments and generally entertain us with their history. It is not always believable but sometimes itis!

Wahlberg climbs fences, beats up criminals and pushes people around but has a good, caring heart under his shield. Selleck is great as the conflicted Top Cop.Everyone in this on-going family dramacan really act so that helps! I love "Blue Bloods" and New Yorkers could learn a lot from looking at it carefully. These days, especially.
NO WONDER newspapers have faltered. In a piece praising my pal, Sandra Bernhard, toward the end of December, the New York Daily News gossip page said Sandra “lives with longtime girlfriend Tabitha Keegan.”

This is such ancient history that Wikipedia should be hanging its head.

Sandra has lived for quite some time with her adorable teenage daughter Cicely and the admirable Sara Switzer of Vanity Fair.
Liz, Sandra, and Cicely before the latter reached teenage.

Contact Liz Smith here.