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Entries in HBO (95)

Friday
Aug052016

The Duplass Brothers are Coming to HBO...Again

Kieran, here. Those who were saddened by the cancellation of the Jay and Mark Duplass-helmed HBO series "Togetherness" (if you haven't seen it, get thee to on demand and join in the mourning) may be at least a little bit heartened to learned that the writer-director sibling duo is returning to HBO. Their new project is an anthology series currently titled "Room 104" about a hotel and the different characters who occupy the room at different times. As if reacting to the now wide array of anthology series both on premium and basic cable (some excellent, others...not so much), the Duplass brothers will inject their brand of low-concept, observational human drama and comedy into the format. “We’ve all seen stories set in seedy motels and high-class international resorts, but for years we’ve been fascinated by the funny, weird, sad, scary, absurd things going down in that corporate chain hotel near the airport. That’s what ‘Room 104’ is after… finding some magic in the seemingly mundane," stated the brothers in a recent statement.

With the announcement of this new Duplass brothers outing as well as the upcoming "Divorce" (starring and executive produced by Sarah Jessica Parker) and "Insecure" (created by and starring Issa Rae, creator of the very funny webseries "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl") it seems that HBO is trying to make a narratively bold statement with their programming choices. Despite the fact that the network's arguable flagship show is a high-concept genre series, they're not making the mistake of many feature film executives, which is to do lowest common denominator versions of what they think is successful. Yes, television and movies are two different industries and the latter relies much more heavily on mercurial but instant and quantifiable financial success. HBO isn't just looking at the success of "Game of Thrones" and saying "More of this and ONLY more of this." This is not meant to denigrate the quality of "Game of Thrones," so fans please retire your torches and pitchforks. Even "Game of Thrones" fans can agree that we don't need a watered-down version that's simply trying to capitalize on the show's popularity. While our excitement about "Room 104," "Insecure" and "Divorce" may vary, it's heartening to see a major cable network making a concerted effort at this particular kind of storytelling. 

Melanie Lynskey and Mark Duplass on HBO's "Togetherness"

No cast information has been released for "Room 104" which is slated to air in 2017. This leaves the door open for the fun game of casting expectations and wishlists. The plot of the series is so open-ended, one can easily imagine a wide array of actors inhabiting this new Duplass universe. 

Which actors would you like to see pass through "Room 104"? 

Thursday
Jul282016

Looking: The Movie Review

Manuel here with an extra episode of HBO LGBT to celebrate the release of Looking: The Movie. I get the title format but would it have hurt Andrew Haigh to give it a less generic title. I mean, “Looking for Closure” would have been a bit on the nose but it’d have fit nicely with the show’s episodic titles (which included “Looking for a Plot” and “Looking for Home” after all).

I have gone on the record before saying how much I treasured Looking—recapping its second season right here was wonderful and a chance to really flesh out why I think Haigh and Michael Lannan’s show was such a striking meditation on gay male intimacy...

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jul222016

TV MVP: Riz Ahmed in "The Night Of"

Chris Feil on HBO's latest buzzy drama...

HBO has gotten back into the crime genre with the launch of new limited series The Night Of. Adapted from the BBC's Criminal Justice, the series has more than a few shades of Serial thrown in as it examines the gruesome murder at its center. While the new series has already established a patient fascination with glacial detail, what has kept it from becoming a flat procedural is the fascinating performance by Riz Ahmed as murder suspect Naz.

Just as he served up a humane human foil to Jake Gyllenhaal's psychopath in Nightcrawler, Ahmed brings a necessary soulfulness to this otherwise cold world in The Night Of. In the lead up to and fallout from the crime, Naz makes an endless string of bad decisions that the actor effortlessly makes believable. He is a wounded deer in the headlights, alternating masked sexual nerves, outsiderness, and blind panic. If the script makes Naz out to be a naive dope, then it's to Ahmed's credit that he finds the honesty about why he would willfully put himself in an obviously toxic situation.

With an insurmountable amount of evidence against him and a convenient blackout during the murder, it's the raw believability of the actor that drives our doubt about Naz's guilt...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jun092016

Emmy FYC: Best Comedy Series - Girls

Emmy nomination voting begins Monday. For the next week or two we'll be sharing FYCs of some kind. Here's Chris...

Once a series falls out of Emmy's favor, it's rare for a show to bounce back into competition when up against unwavering favorites and shiny new toys. No show on television deserves to be welcomed back as much as HBO's Girls.

This year's fifth season was the show at its most character-driven, putting aside its zeitgeist grabbing self-referential devices in favor of a more laid back pace. Though its downshift in cultural focus arguably took it out of the headlines, there's now more breathing room to keep the antics organic and the progressions satisfying. Each episode is a self-contained gem with the story lines flowing coherently between them while it takes characters to emotionally rewarding places. It's the kind of payoff you only get from a incisively directed show in its prime. It's the kind of payoff that only comes from a show that knows its characters to the core. [More...]

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Sunday
May292016

Link Rising

Vanity Fair are big changes ahead for HBO's original programming? Will they make the right calls?
Film School Rejects 38 things we learned from writer/director Robert Eggers' commentary track on The Witch 
Oscar Dances a new twitter account is replaying that Ex Machina dance scene with Oscar Isaac getting down to every song imaginable
Variety Owen Gleiberman has a smart take on the comic rise of Zac Efron in Neighbors and Neighbors 2


Comics Alliance has a fan and staff generated list of the 100 greatest X-Men of all time. Another reminder that that movies just aren't doing right by this breadth, diversity, and queerness of this team. Only 2 of their top ten (Jean Grey & Magneto) have been reasonably well served by the movies.
Antagony & Ecstasy remembers Hedwig and the Angry Inch with a stellar review
Business Insider the new practice of teasing the trailer you're actually watching online before you watch it
Forbes underperforming sequels can still generate profits if the production is smart
Pajiba Lionsgate admits that the Divergent series is a mess but shows no signs of having learned from it
Slate on the "dark future of whitewashing" in regards to Asian-American actors 
MTV "We still don't live in that kind of world" - we weren't the only ones remembering the still resonant Thelma & Louise this week 
NY Times has a fascinating report on the death of the office dress code. Love that they illustrated with Working Girl.  

Wednesday
May112016

HBO’s LGBT History: The End

It's the final episode as Manuel has worked his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions

I began this project because, after watching and recapping Looking here, I became fascinated with the idea that, with that Andrew Haigh show, the cable network had somehow reached peak gay TV even as it also managed to alienate the very viewers it was trying to coax. I wanted to, in a way, put Looking in context by watching everything HBO had produced and aired that had tackled LGBT issues.

This required a lot of scavenging—despite their shiny HBOGo and HBO Now ventures, a lot of the network’s older and more obscure TV movies and shows remain unattainable. And so I reached back and watched a lot of not so great TV movies from the early 80s, caught up with key “very special episodes” of their most well-known dramas and comedies, and later got to re-watch some of their most recent entries into this, as it turned out, rather extensive canon.

We began with Harvey Fierstein’s Tidy Endings which a year later looks as perfect an intro to the HBO brand of LGBT representation as I could have envisioned: here was a character-driven drama adapted from a well-received property (Fierstein’s one-act play) that got a prestige boost with some grade-A casting (Stockard Channing) that treated its characters with dignity and complexity. That it was also an AIDS drama (in 1988!) also told me a lot about how button-pushing and social justice-minded the network was and remains. In fact, for the first handful of entries this column might as well have been called “HBO’s AIDS films.”

What surprised me most in this journey was both the diversity of stories being told and also the homogeneity of them at the same time. Taken individually, And the Band Played On, The Normal Heart, Vito, In The Gloaming, Angels in America and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt are all urgent and necessary projects that build out the narrative of the AIDS crisis; but seen as a collective, you cannot help but see the very narrow racial and socio-economic stories being told here. Angels is a near-perfect play/miniseries but I do often wish Belize’s world and personal life had been offered to us in equal measure with his fellow characters. Similarly, while gay men were amply represented, I found myself dismayed (though not surprised) at the lack of lesbian stories.

These are, of course, issues that are larger and more systematic but they’re worth keeping in mind even as I still stand by the belief that HBO has championed LGBT representation like no other television network in history (though ABC and ABC Family/Freeform on the one hand and Netflix on the other might be giving them a run for their money right now).

Rather than offer an exhaustive index of everything I covered—22 television shows, 18 feature films, 16 documentaries, and 2 miniseries—I figured I’d offer a sampling, with three Top 5 lists. 

Manuel’s Favorites: Top 5 Discoveries

Part of the fun of this project was the chance to watch films that I'd never seen before and there 5 may not be the "best" but they are certainly the ones I'm most glad I got to catch and write about. Bonus: even in a gay male saturated canon, I got to talk about Michelle Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, Yolonda Ross, and Jessica Lange.

If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)
Stranger Inside (2001)
Normal (2003)
Nightingale (2015)
Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures (2016)

Manuel’s Favorites: Top 5 TV

These were not only fun to write (I really could spend endless posts on my love for Andrew Rannells in Girls and the actressing work on that Mormon family drama Big Love) but also great exercises in focusing on the parts rather than the whole (say, Dane DeHaan's great turn, Rodrigo García's capable direction).

Six Feet Under, “A Private Life” (2001)
Big Love (2006-2011)
In Treatment (2008-2010)
Girls (2012-)
Sex in TV

Fan Favorites: Top 5 Most Commented

Auteurs, Sarah Jessica Parker & co., and Glenn Close drove the most spirited discussions this past year which, when you think about it, seems just about right. 

Elephant (2003)
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Sex and the City (2008, 2010)
1998, The Year in TV
In the Gloaming (1997)

There's plenty more for you to dig through if you wanted to revisit the entire series, but for now we'll bid goodbye to the series which was challenging, exhiliarating, and exhausting, but never nothing short of rewarding. Thank you to Nathaniel, to all who commented, who shared in the experience, and who made it feel like I wasn't alone this past year. There may be another column in the future but for now, we rest (and patiently wait for Haigh's Looking film which will premiere at Frameline this June).