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Celebrate Your Independence By Watching More TV

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July is traditionally the time of holiday barbecues, family vacations, poolside lounging and sunburn. But with a large flock of shows premiering this month, there is plenty to keep us thoroughly entertained and content in our air conditioned rooms if we so desire. Be it the awaited return of award winning and nominated programs such as Showtime’s one-two punch of Ray Donovan and Masters of Sex or the debut of a slew of new shows, rest assured we’ll all have enough to distract us from the dreaded heat and keep us cool on those hot and lazy summer days.

DRUNK HISTORY

Just in time to honor the memory of all the sacrifices our founding fathers made in order to gain our country’s independence, Comedy Central graces us with a second season of Drunk History. The hazy recollections of significant events in our culture’s past, told in clumsy detail by inebriated storytellers returns for another round starting July, 1st at 10 p.m.

Based off of the award winning Funny or Die web series, co-creator and host Derek Waters crosses the country in order to interview intoxicated guests, who go onto tell their alcohol drenched versions of local history. The tales are then acted out and the storyteller’s slurred words are perfectly lip synched by some of the most well known actors and comedians around today. Jack Black, Winona Ryder, Dave Grohl, and Michael Cera are just some of the names on the long list of people who have appeared on the show.

This upcoming season has been extended to ten episodes, as Waters and his crew seek out the rich history of such cities as Philadelphia, New York City and Hollywood. The founders of this nation were big whiskey fans, there was even a rebellion against its taxation. So I don’t think their spirits will mind if you happen to overly imbibe at that Fourth of July BBQ this summer.

The ‘90s: The Last Great Decade?

Brought to you by the same people who produced last year’s nostalgic miniseries The ‘80s: The Decade That Made Us, which examined the totally tubular trends and news making moments of the parachute pants wearing decade, comes a revision of 1990’s history that questions if the era was indeed the last great decade.

Of course there will be those who will take acceptation to that title, as myself did a good deal of growing up in the ‘90s, and hold memories of having the World War II generation repeatedly crowned throughout the media as the greatest generation. They may have been able to live through the Depression and defeat Hitler in the Second World War, but did they have Presidential blowjobs and the impeachment hearings that followed?

Did they watch former NFL stars on a nationally televised car chase with the LAPD? How about Olympic figure skaters taking each other’s knees out with batons? Or even pregnant teens and a panel of potential fathers on a phalanx of new daytime talk shows? I bet they didn’t even have a recorded police beating of a civilian that set off a week long devastating city riot. The ‘50s gave us suburban sprawl and the ‘90s gave us the birth of reality TV, which seem like equal gifts somehow in the end. The ‘90s: The Last Great Decade? premiers July 6th at 9 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.

Kidnapped For Christ Official Trailer from Kidnapped For Christ on Vimeo

Kidnapped for Christ

David was a Colorado high school student, who one day made the tremendously bold decision to reveal his hidden homosexuality to his parents. For his bravery, he found himself shipped off to the wilds of a remote mountain town in the far off Dominican Republic. Made to endure behavioral modifications at a therapeutic reform school for “troubled” teens known as Escuela Caribe. “Culture Shock Therapy” was the school’s philosophy and practice, as they subjecting students to forced labor, frequent beatings, which the school playfully deemed “swats”, as well as many other forms of mental and emotional abuse.

Filmmaker Kate Logan, who was able to fund the film through multiple crowd sourcing campaigns, initially set out to find the positive effects, if any, that a place like Escuela Caribe could have on troubled youth. But after spending a summer in the facility and bearing witness to some of the decidedly harsh handling of a good number of the students, Logan turned her attention to shedding light on some of the more shady aspects of the school.

Uncovering such acts as teens being forcible removed from their parent’s homes and relocated in the middle of the night. And facing the tight bureaucracy that administrates and local officials would resort to, in order to keep not only the secrets, but students from ever leaving the cloistered confines of the school. Kidnapped for Christ makes its television premier on Showtime, Thursday, July 10th at 7:30 p.m.

Manhattan

Tucked away in isolated labs at classified locations, smack dab in the middle of the mesas of New Mexico, teams of scientists worked feverishly to find the correct components that would create the world’s first atomic bomb. Many blindly working on projects they believed to be related to other matters of national security, unaware that they were working on the most clandestine government project to date. And in the process helping to give birth to a new era of the military industrial complex.

Manhattan, a new 1940s period drama set to premier on WGN America July 27th, examines what is was like to be one of the select secretive few in on the designing and planning of the historic Manhattan Project nuclear tests.

Sam Shaw, the executive producer of the Showtime hit series Masters of Sex, has brought together an ensemble cast, including John Benjamin Hickey from The Big C, veteran actor Daniel Stern, and Rachel Brosnahan from the award winning Netflix original series House of Cards. Staying true to detail, production set up over a sprawling 12 acre studio oasis in the deserts of New Mexico. Trying to replicate what it was like when the United States employed roughly 130,000 workers to toil in silent service.

The show not only details the beginning of the atomic age, but also the lingering ramifications one dealt with after realizing they were working on a project of such magnitude, which held the potential for such catastrophic events.

History Detectives: Special Investigations
Full episodes at pbs.org

With the History channel now choke full of shows that have little or nothing to do with actual history, it’s nice to see a show that still stays true to its title. Returning after a short hiatus with a new name, (the show formerly known simply as History Detectives) History Detectives: Special Investigations has been spruced up and given an NCIS series type of moniker, but has hopefully retained its PBS credibility.

The “detectives” on the show are a team of reoccurring historical specialists, who explore the backgrounds behind artifacts that people may have stumbled across or have held as heirlooms in their families for generations. Like an Antiques Roadshow for people who aren’t necessarily looking to sell anything. In fact, HDSI host Wes Cowan frequently appears on both programs.

With the expansion of cable channels in recent years and multiple History Channels now available, it’s a shame that most of their content is now dedicated to reality television and conspiracy themed material. So when a program still loyal to historical education finds its way onto the airwaves, it feels like a refreshing change of pace. The new season begins July 1st, at 9 p.m.

 

 

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Watchlist

Just bring on the Christmas movies… But these will do, too

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November is here; release the Christmas movies!!!

November’s upon us, and since in recent years there seems to be somewhat of a race to see who can get their Christmas decorations out the quickest, the movers and shakers of TV and film have responded in kind by unfurling their holiday fluff earlier and earlier each year. Given the multitude of channels I receive with my cable subscription, most of which I’ll never even peruse, I’m surprised a 24 hour, 365 day holiday channel does not exist. Maybe it does, and I haven’t gone that far down my dial just yet. But as you all eagerly anticipate the release of Grumpy Cat’s Christmas movie, (yes, it’s real) there is also a batch of heathen non holiday shows and films debuting this month as well. So for all of those not quite ready to slap on that holiday cheer, don’t worry, there’s plenty of entertainment to help keep you preoccupied, as you’re otherwise inundated with the endless cycle of the season’s commercials, and the festive people surrounding you attempting to break your resolve.

Note: Since Thanksgiving does not get much play in the realm of holiday flicks, I would strongly suggest watching the classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” this month. Steve Martin’s misadventures with the legendary late John Candy en route to celebrate turkey day with his family, is something I return to every year.

Film: Foxcatcher
Release Date: Nov. 14th

My wife and I were recently discussing the post television film output of one, Steve Carell. We wondered if he was destined to star in a string of family friendly, middle of the road, predictable comedies. The film gods must have been listening, for the upcoming release of the chilling true crime bio flick “Foxcatcher”, starring Carell as eccentric multi-millionaire heir turned convicted killer John du Pont, seems the perfect vehicle to rescue his career from being stuck on the road to mediocrity.

Directed by Bennett Miller, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the 2011 film “Moneyball”, Foxcatcher also features Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as Olympic gold medal winning wrestler brothers Dave and Mark Schultz. John du Pont himself turned to wrestling at an advanced age, beginning to train and compete in his mid-fifties. Du pont’s stern mother, (played by Vanessa Redgrave), dissuaded her son from getting involved in what she deemed such a “low” sport. But not long after du Pont’s mother passed, he quickly turned his family’s sprawling Foxcatcher Farm in suburban Pennsylvania into a world class training facility for some of the biggest names in amateur athletics.

Du Pont did not want to just amass a stable of stellar athletes, but create a team of star spangled champions, that the country could look up to look to as an inspiration. Mark Schultz and his wife even resided at a home on the grounds of the over 800 acre property. Du Pont, whose family began making their vast fortune by being the first major manufacturers of gun powder in the US, was heir to what had grown onto become one of the largest chemical conglomerates in the world. Given his lifetime of philanthropic work, study and participation in scientific expeditions, people often overlooked the peculiar quirks and social awkwardness of the extremely wealthy man. Chalking it up to the isolation and distinct world perspective that only such an incredibly rich life could afford. But when behavioral patterns began to take a paranoid turn for the worse, friends began to become concerned. Overtime du Pont began to fear that those around him, the small brotherhood of struggling athletes whom he himself had cultivated, were only there in order to steal his money. Noticing that du Pont had begun to carry a gun, many of the wrestlers training at Foxcatcher left or were told at gunpoint by du Pont to leave the premises immediately. With tensions coming to a tragic head one January day in 1996.

Adeptly capturing du Pont in a downright creepy tone, there’s already buzz that this role could land Carell an Oscar. While others are giving a nod to Tatum’s performance as award worthy as well. This film just may clean up come trophy time. Foxcatcher opens in theatres Friday, November 14th.

Film: Rosewater
Release Date: Nov. 7th

In June of 2009, Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari appeared during a satirical segment on the Daily Show. During the piece, show correspondent Jason Jones went to Iran and interviewed locals in an attempt to show the hatred for everything American, which radiated from the average person on the street. And to showcase the vast cultural differences that separate the US and scary old Persia. The joke of course being that there ain’t much difference. Jones illustrates the point by visiting the home of a middleclass Iranian family, playing video games with the children and enjoying the same trappings that could easily be found in Anytown, USA.

Shortly after the episode aired, Bahari was arrested for what authorities deemed “communication with an American spy.” Tortured and made to make a televised confession of his guilt, Bahari was detained for over 100 days in one of the world’s most notoriously brutal penitentiaries, Evin Prison. A jail which holds such a large number of political and intellectual prisoners, it has garnered the nickname “Evin University.”

The events of the arrest and imprisonment spurred Daily Show host Jon Stewart to take the story and make his directorial debut. The upcoming “Rosewater” tells the tale of Bahari’s ordeal, one which he himself has dubbed both stupid and funny at the same time. The title of the film comes from the name Bhari gave to his interrogator, whom he couldn’t see since he was blindfolded but said smelled of the fragrant water.
With Stewart serving daily helpings of sarcasm for fifteen years now, it will be interesting to see him transition his political skewer over to another medium. And attempt to give proper justice to such a serious story rife with injustice. Rosewater opens Friday, November 7th.

Film: Dumb & Dumber To
Release Date: Nov. 14th

So, this is coming out this month.

Nothing is broken, this is what I wrote.

Show: The Hitmakers
Network: PBS

PBS continues their Arts Fall Festival of programming, with an in depth look into the shape shifting and evolution, which the music industry has undergone during the upheaval of the digital age. The special Hitmakers examines how corporate strategies have changed in recent years, as so many artists have been given direct control over their own creative destiny via social media.

The last twenty years have seen the industry deal with the decline of CD sales, the problem of online piracy, and the proliferation of new ways of listening and buying music over the internet. The popularity of streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, have dealt the industry and its affiliated artists another blow by forcing them to scramble to restructure archaic contracts made before the digital dawn. Some musicians have felt ripped off due to the lack of royalties received from on-line musical consumption. While others see it as a blessing and praising it as a wider avenue for their music to be shared.

While the industry is still seeing its fair share of residuals from their internet contemporaries, many in the game are loudly crying recession. Many outside are asking if the industry is, in fact, still relevant. With so many labels now feeding the beast with a steady diet of tween-aimed disposable singles, are companies now willing to take a chance on artists of more substantial and lasting value? Or has self-expression been pushed aside in favor of pure pop entertainment? The Hitmakers delves into these topics and more with artist interviews and performances on its Friday, November 14th premier.

Film: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Release Date: Nov. 21st

Yadda, yadda, Jennifer Lawrence.
Badda, binga, never saw the other ones.
Lambda, lambda, be more excited if I was 15.

Show: The Newsroom – (final season)
Network: HBO

HBO’s critically acclaimed drama The Newsroom returns for its third and final season in November. The show features the tense daily commotion at the fictional Atlantis Cable News, as the team of talking heads attempt to bring viewers the day’s daily events. Focus is laid on News Night lead anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, who won an Emmy for his role in the series. Daniels and crew try to navigate the maze of growing political, commercial and corporate blockades placed in their way of delivering an unfiltered news program.

One of the obstacles the group must deal with is the CEO of their own parent company, Leona Lansing. Lansing played by Jane Fonda in her first major television role, one in which she earned her own Emmy nomination, is frequently upset with the broadcasts that conflict or alienate her corporate interests. Installing her ratings hungry son, Reese, (played by Chris Messina) as the president of the network in order to keep a close eye on McAvoy and crew.

The Newsroom’s strong point is that it covers current events, as opposed to fictional affairs. And the characters have an air of reality to them, with the clearly apparent nods to media power manipulators such as Fonda portraying none other than her ex-husband, Ted Turner. As well as her son Reese’s antics of wiretapping and phone hacking, having a similar ring to the actions which landed Fox News magnate Roger Murdoch on the front pages of his own papers. With this being the third and final season of the show, conflicts are sure to come to a head. As the battle of creating an unbiased news source rages on.

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