“Meat And Mead”

Sophie Turner as ‘Sansa Stark’ in “Game of Thrones” (ep #6.1)[Contains unfettered dragons and SPOILERS!!!]

The sixth season of Game of Thrones has finally arrived. Hurrah! I’ve been trying to damp down my excitement and temper my expectations, but couldn’t help feeling a little giddy when I heard that opening music building for the first time in what feels like an eternity! Ack! Now we’re two episodes in, and have caught up with all of my fave female characters:

It was such a relief to see ‘Brienne’ (Gwendoline Christie) finally coming to ‘Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) rescue in the premiere… better late than never, as they say… and I even got a little weepy when they exchanged their oaths (after a little helpful prompting from ‘Pod’ (Daniel Portman), of course!). And this week we got some fun banter about her “unladylike” sister too…

Apparently poor ‘Arya’ (Maisie Williams) had been reduced to begging in the street, after being blinded and kicked out of the temple… but her punishment/training continued, with ‘The Waif’ (Faye Marsay) popping by to give her a daily bo-staff beat-down. Harsh. Now she’s been retrieved from the streets by her enigmatic mentor, but I get the feeling she isn’t back on the “royal road” just yet…

Emilia Clarke as ‘Daenerys Targaryen’ in “Game of Thrones” (ep #6.1)As I said at the time, I was sorely disappointed by the diversion that ‘Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) storyline took at the end of the previous season… but found myself really enjoying the Dothraki camp scenes in this season’s premiere, with all their comedic banter, and the surprisingly welcome return of their simple-minded, debate-quashing catchphrase: It is known.

And, er, apparently the “Sand Snakes” have developed teleportation powers now, magickally appearing on Prince Trystane’s ship just as it’s leaving King’s Landing, even though we saw them smugly standing on a jetty watching it depart Dorne at the end of the previous season!? WTF!? I’m all for ‘Ellaria’ (Indira Varma) and her kill-crazy girl-gang (Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, and Jessica Henwick) getting more screentime, but so far this Dornish debacle continues to be the weakest link in the series, in terms of plausibility and slapdashery. Tch!

Over on The Iron Islands, the Greyjoys’ have been granted a prominent power-grab plotline of their own, prompted by the return of ‘Euron Greyjoy’ (Pilou Asbæk), estranged uncle to ‘Theon’ (Alfie Allen) and ‘Yara’ (Gemma Whelan), who will no doubt be eager to claim the “Salt Throne”, after offing its previous occupant (and his own elder brother), the belligerent old-codger King ‘Balon Greyjoy’ (Patrick Malahide). Yara tried to make a case for her own ascendancy, but apparently rulership is reliant on approval by something called the “Kingsmoot”… and it doesn’t sound like they’re big fans of affirmative action, sadly…

Ellie Kendrick as ‘Meera Reed’ in “Game of Thrones” (ep #6.2)And after a looong year of waiting “beyond the wall”, getting bored stiff and frost-bitten while ‘Bran’ (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) got his Warg on with the “Three-Eyed Raven” (Max von Sydow!), ‘Meera’ (Ellie Kendrick) was feeling like a fifth wheel spinning uselessly in the snow… until ‘Leaf’, a cheer-leading Child of the Forest (Kae Alexander), reminded our heroine that Bran would need her to protect him when he eventually does depart. So, there’s the promise of future adventure and arse-kicking to come there… and plenty close-ups of Ellie to enjoy in the meantime! Squee!

Meanwhile, ‘Cersei’ (Lena Headey) is still on stand-by, following her epic walk-of-shame and the death of her beloved daughter, as her former (?) nemesis ‘Margaery’ (Natalie Dormer) continues to languish in the Faith Militant’s filthy dungeons… though I’m eagerly anticipating the episode where she manages to manipulate them into worshipping her good self instead of The Seven, through the undeniable power of her divine charisma…

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BDOTPOTUS*

VVeep-S5-CD01eep returned for a fifth season this week, picking up after the nail-biting cliff-hanger-ending of last year’s finale, and pulling all of the regular characters back together again, while also adding another famous face to the extended ensemble: Clea DuVall has now joined the supporting cast as ‘Marjorie Palmiotti’, a Secret Service agent who’s been selected to guard precarious President ‘Selina Meyer’ (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), based largely on her supposed resemblance to the POTUS from behind. If nothing else, I think this proves what a great sport DuVall is, since she got next-to-no dialogue in this episode, and was basically just the butt of a rude running gag about how un-curvaceous she is, compared to JLD… with Selina and ‘Gary’ (Tony Hale) repeatedly shooting derisive scowls at her backside, as she bravely soldiered on ahead of them. Harsh… but funny, all the same!

Meanwhile, I’m also very happy to see ‘Amy’ returning to the Meyer fold, so we can enjoy more of Anna Chlumsky’s glorious facial contortions. That gal’s wasted in “talkies”, I tell ya!

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* “Body-Double Of The President Of The United States”… that’s a thing, right?

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Early Ellie

[Contains case-cracking pendants and SPOILERS!!!]

Ellie Kendrick as 'Young Greta' in "Waking the Dead" (ep #4.10)England’s sweetheart, Ellie Kendrick, made her official television debut in ep #4.10 of detective-drama Waking the Dead (2004), playing ‘Young Greta’ in a series of traumatic childhood flashbacks. The adult version of the character, ‘Dr. Greta Simpson’ (played by Emma Fielding), is a criminal-profiler working alongside the show’s main cast on an investigation into a series of messy murders involving alleged child-molesters. Or something. To be honest, I skipped the (Ellie-less) first episode of this two-parter, and had a little trouble following the storyline, despite the frequent recapping… though it’s worth noting in my defence that there’s a thread on IMDb where avid viewers of the series admit to being equally perplexed with how this particular plot played out. Regardless, for the purposes of this post all you need to know is that Greta was sexually abused by her father, and that when she starts to recover her buried memories of this towards the end of the second episode, she’s portrayed by Ellie… both in (implicit) flashbacks to the assault itself, and also in a slightly confusing present-day vision of the “ghost” of her innocent younger self (plus an inexplicable sequence of old-timey “home movie” footage showing her frolicking in a park and eating ice-cream, that plays over the end credits). She only gets one line of actual dialogue, but there’s plenty of close-ups, and a lot of serious acting involved, portraying the girl’s mounting pre-emptive anxiety and mute reactions to her off-screen abuse… though Ellie also gets to break out that adorable smile of hers, in the character’s happier (imaginary?) moments. Overall, a pretty auspicious and impressive introduction for the actress… even if the episode itself is a bit of muddle.

After that, she appeared in an episode of BBC1’s daytime medical soap-opera Doctors (#6.48), and landed the lead role in a six-part children’s’ fantasy series called In2Minds (2004), playing a girl who can hear her dog’s thoughts! Neither show has ever been released on DVD, so it’s pretty much impossible to find any footage from them online… though, considering how they’ve dressed Ellie in the promo photo for In2Minds, that may be for the best(meow!)

Ellie Kendrick as 'Melanie' in "Prime Suspect: The Final Act"Then it was back to the police procedurals, for a small (but memorable) role in Prime Suspect: The Final Act (2006), which stars the incomparable Helen Mirren as ‘Det. Supt. Jane Tennison’, who’s attempting to solve the disappearance/murder of a young schoolgirl, while battling alcoholism, coping with the illness/death of her bed-ridden father, and contemplating her own imminent retirement from the force. Along the way, she befriends the missing/dead girl’s bestie, ‘Penny Philips’, played by Laura Greenwood… with both of them delivering excellent performances, and really selling the growing bond between them (as well as various betrayals and heartbreaks along the way). Meanwhile, Ellie plays ‘Melanie’, an unsympathetic classmate of Penny’s, who can be briefly glimpsed during the first feature-length instalment as an extra in the canteen questioning scene, but makes a much stronger impression in the second instalment, teasing Penny about her father’s recent imprisonment, and then getting attacked by the volatile teenager. Again, Ellie only has one line of actual dialogue (childishly chanting the words “Blow job! Blow job!”, to echo another classmate’s cruel comment… which must have made for a pretty odd audition…), but the fight between her and Greenwood is very aggressive, with a lot of punching and grappling, before they’re eventually separated. As far as I can tell both girls did their own stunts, so you have to applaud Ellie for taking so many bumps and bruises, considering how little screen-time she gets, relative to her co-stars. That’s commitment!

Ellie Kendrick as 'Megan Linn' in "Lewis" (ep #1.2)After that, Ellie popped up in the second episode of posthumous Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis (2007) as ‘Megan Linn’, the nagging daughter of an Oxford professor suspected of murdering his old college chums. Although she gets more dialogue here than in the previous procedurals, she also gets a lot less screen-time/close-ups, and it’s by far the dullest of the three roles she plays. All she really does is comment on a puddle of (incriminating) oil leaking from her father’s car that the detectives have noticed, then head indoors and repeat the same comment to her father, before walking out of frame and disappearing forever. Not much of a strain on her acting muscles, besides some mild distress/confusion at her father’s angry reaction to her innocent observation… so really, it was quite a leap from this fleeting bit part to her subsequent starring role in The Diary of Anne Frank (which is really where Ellie’s screen-career began in earnest). Unless you’re an overly-curious/obsessive completist like myself, I don’t think you really need to watch any of these shows just for her sake… though Prime Suspect is well worth checking out on its own merits, if you like serious crime thrillers.

Fun fact: In all three stories, the lead character/copper befriends a seemingly innocent and sociable girl/woman who is later revealed to have been heavily involved in (if not outright responsible for) the murders being investigated! And the so-called detectives don’t suspect a thing, until the final act reveal. D’oh! At least Tennison had the excuse that she was half-drunk most of the time…

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Cunk Tease

Diane Morgan as 'Philomena Cunk' (as Queen Elizabeth I) in "Cunk on Shakespeare"Apparently today marks the 400-year anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the alleged author* of some of the greatest plays ever written in the English language. To mark the occasion, the BBC wisely commissioned ace presenter/pundit ‘Philomena Cunk’ (Diane Morgan) to succinctly summarise The Bard’s life and legacy in her own unique stylee. Hurrah! Annoyingly though, we’ve known about the half-hour special’s existence for months, and the Beeb recently released a set of promo photos to taunt us with, but they still haven’t revealed when the show will actually be airing! Gah!!

Despite my admiration for Morgan, I’m a little trepidatious about the upcoming (?) episode, because so far we’ve only seen Cunk presenting bite-size nuggets of nonsense, and have no idea if her particular brand of brain-bending absurdity can be stretched to fill a longer time-slot. Of course, I could happily listen to Morgan reading the phonebook for thirty minutes, and I’m sure this programme will be much funnier than that, so hurry up and run it already, Auntie!

UPDATE: According to that nice Mr. Brooker, this show will air at 10pm on May 11th (BBC2). Hurrah!

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* Just kidding… I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories at all. I did try to watch Anonymous a couple weeks back, but it’s a such a hash I gave up after the first twenty minutes. If these Oxfordian snobs can’t even slap a decent/coherent film together to support their case, then what right do they have to slag off Shakespeare, and say he wasn’t educated enough to write the work attributed to him? Feh!

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R.I.P. Victoria Wood CBE (1953 – 2016)

Victoria Wood as 'Victoria' in "Victoria Wood"More sad news for British comedy fans I’m afraid, as this increasingly tragic “Giant Killer” of a year claims yet another cultural icon: The much-loved comedienne, actress, singer/songwriter, screenwriter, and director, Victoria Wood. Although I haven’t mentioned her nearly enough on this blog, she was a major figure in my formative years as a TV viewer, and particular lines from her work still regularly echo in my brain, when appropriate… or inappropriate, as the case may be. Besides all the laughter and music (I still have a copy of her Comic Relief “Smile Song” single in my record box), she also turned me on to the miraculous powers of a nice hot cuppa, so bless her for all that, and more besides. Obviously I need to add her BBC boxset to my “buy” list immediately… though I’m very disappointed that it doesn’t include her All Day Breakfast special, which was a big fave of mine back in the day… thank goodness for YouTube, eh? I’ll be watching that tonight, in her honour…

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Woman With A Plan

Jennifer Tilly as 'Rena Rushton' and 'Kathy Payne' in "Man with a Gun"The premise of Man with a Gun (1995) is utterly ridiculous, but it does pay some undeniable dividends for Jennifer Tilly and her fans. To shorthand it: A powerful mobster (Gary Busey) assigns his bestest hit-man (Michael Madsen) to eliminate his scheming wife (Tilly), little suspecting that the hitman and wife are already knocking boots together. Rather conveniently, the imperilled wife just-so-happens to have an identical twin sister (Tilly too!), who the hit-man can theoretically kill in her stead, leaving the two of them free to abscond with their ill-gotten gains. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way, because the big lug goes and falls in “love” with the sister, who’s as sweet and sincere as her sibling is sultry and sly*, leading to all sorts of bloody complications and double-crosses. None of it makes a jot of sense, and the paper-thin characters never really behave like living-breathing human beings… but it’s still a lot of fun to see Tilly tackling two starkly contrasting roles, and playing them both to the hilt.

In a way, it’s a shame that the big fancy awards tend to go to actors who give great performances in well-written and well-directed films, rather than to actors who manage to rise above the crappy material they’re lumbered with, using their natural talent and charisma to ensure that the audience remains engaged in their scenes, regardless of all the dreary tosh that happens in-between his/her oasis-like appearances on-screen. If they gave out Oscars for good acting in bad movies, Tilly would have a shed full of them by now!

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* Seriously, anyone writing an essay on the “virgin/whore” dichotomy in genre fiction should definitely check this flick out!

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Applesauce 6: Wendy’s Big Break

[Contains insanely expensive pens and SPOILERS!!!]

I was just gearing up to watch the sixth season of The Larry Sanders Show (1998) when the sad news of Garry Shandling’s death broke, adding an extra layer of poignancy to this final outing. It also inspired plenty articles and posts asserting how influential this cult sitcom has proven to be since it first aired, and the long shadow that its star/creator has cast over the genre with this seminal series and its fourth-wall-smashing predecessor, The Garry Shandling Show (1986-1990). So, a solemn hat-tip to him… and here’s hoping that the still rather murky circumstances surrounding his untimely demise don’t tarnish his remarkable comedic legacy.

Mary Lynn Rajskub as ‘Mary Lou Collins’ in “The Larry Sanders Show” (ep #6.1)As noted in my previous post, ‘Paula’ was entirely absent this season, superseded by ‘Mary Lou Collins’ (Mary Lynn Rajskub) as the head talent-booker. In fact, Mary Lou scored an impressive 11 credited appearances across 13 episodes, though the undoubted highlight of her run has to be ep #6.5, in which she has an unfortunate fender-bender with ‘Hank’s (Jeffrey Tambor) beloved Bentley in the parking lot, and makes such a hash of her confession that she actually ends up agreeing to go out with him, rather than admit to her misdemeanour! D’oh! She also formed a close friendship with my (new) fave female staff-member, ‘Wendy Traston’ (Sarah Silverman), who made a triumphant return in ep #6.9… though Mary Lou wasn’t especially supportive of her gal-pal’s fledgling stand-up career, hesitating long-and-hard over the question of whether Wendy was “ready” to perform her act on the show or not. To his credit, snarky and chauvinistic head-writer ‘Phil’ (Wallace Langham) sung her praises quite sincerely to ‘Artie’ (Rip Torn), having finally come around to accepting her as a talented comedian first, and a woman second (if at all). Hurrah!

Sarah Silverman as ‘Wendy Traston’ in “The Larry Sanders Show” (ep #6.9)Fun fact: The jokes that Wendy performed on the show were taken directly from Big S’s own off-screen act, meaning that I’d actually seen/heard snippets of her Jesus is Magic routine several decades before I became consciously aware of how awesome and hilarious she was. What took me so damn long!? Gah!! Of course, this episode aired back in the dark and dreary pre-internet days, when a curious comedy fan couldn’t simply Google someone’s name to find clips of their previous work, or buy their albums at the click of a mouse-button… so… er… that’s my defence, m’lud. Wendy re-appeared briefly in ep #6.10, but it was just a couple quick scenes of her tormenting a beleaguered Phil in the writers’ room, and snarking at Mary Lou, rather than the subplot-starring role that she enjoyed in her previous episodes. Boo! Apparently Silverman and Shandling continued to hang out together long after the series had ended, with the former eulogising the latter (via Twitter) as “the most generous loving mentor & friend”. R.I.P.

Winona Ryder as ‘herself’ in “The Larry Sanders Show” (ep #6.1)As for the guest stars: Winona Ryder appeared in ep #6.1, bonding with Larry over a mutual appreciation for the music of Smash Mouth (!), before making-out with his new professional nemesis, Jon Stewart, in her dressing room. Tch, tch, tch! Lea Thompson appeared in ep #6.3, resentfully enduring Hank’s inept audition for a cameo on Caroline in the City*, and consequently receiving the stink-eye from him throughout her (post-rejection) appearance on the chat-show. Bridget Fonda appeared in ep #6.4, fretting about her appeal as an interviewee, while promoting Jackie Brown. Kristen Johnston appeared in ep #6.6, being a lovely guest and chiding guest-host Stewart for asking about her height… which is apparently such a cliché question, she’s considered getting the relevant measurement tattooed on her forehead! Laura Dern appeared in ep #6.8, dating Larry in secret but eventually getting outed by a resentful psychic (Char Margolis) who’d been bumped from the show.

Illeana Douglas as ‘herself’ in “The Larry Sanders Show” (ep #6.10)Polly Draper appeared in ep #6.9 as ‘Dr. Monica Gordon’, giving Hank his first ever colonoscopy, and somehow enchanting him enough to be asked on a date, shortly thereafter! Meanwhile, Gina Gershon guested on the show and agreed to go out with Larry, despite the fact she was clearly still hung up on her former boyfriend (and Larry’s best bud), Jeff Goldblum. This episode also featured a brief appearance by Illeana Douglas, arriving for a pre-interview for the show, and taking an immediate liking to Larry… which then lead to her becoming his serious love-interest in the subsequent episode (ep #6.10), where he’s so worried about her rambling/boring anecdotes that he ends up coaching her to become a better guest by scripting their “spontaneous” banter, and intensively drilling her on the line-readings. By the end of the episode, their relationship has taken on a slightly disturbing (and mildly abusive) sub-dom aspect. Shudder… but also top marks to Douglas for her incredible performance here. Oh, and Drew Barrymore also had a short-and-sweet cameo, recording a good-bye video for Larry directed/instigated by Hank, who couldn’t help spoiling the warm-and-fuzzy vibe by sexually-harassing her. Tch!

Linda Doucett as ‘Darlene Chapinni’ in “The Larry Sanders Show” (ep #6.11)Finally, Ellen DeGeneres and Carol Burnett appeared in the extended finale (ep #11/12) as guests on Larry’s over-stuffed swan-song show, calling the host a liar on-air and cheerfully chatting among themselves to freeze him out. Meanwhile, Linda Doucett also returned for a very welcome backstage cameo as ‘Darlene’, expressing her joy that Larry was finally leaving the toxic world of showbusiness behind… bless her.

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* By a wacky co-inky, Caroline in the City was also referenced in a recent episode of Fresh off the Boat, prompting me to refresh my memory of the series… which, according to Wikipedia, ran for 97 episodes across four seasons, from 1995-2000. I definitely remember watching (and liking) it at the time, but really haven’t thought about it much since then… hmmm…

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