The Greatest Television Series of All Time

Next up for polling at Wonders in the Dark are The Greatest Television Series of All Time. For theses ballots, both series and mini-series can be considered.

As daunting as this was (and as difficult as it was to consider current running series that deserve a spot, but who knows how they might last or age over time), I had to put in my ballot.

The Top 60 countdown at WitD will begin later this summer.

Until then, see how your own choices would stack up against mine.

#57 I’ll Fly Away

#53 Newsradio

#49 Chappelle’s Show

#35 The Kingdom

#31 Homefront

#18 Elizabeth R

#14 Rome

#10 The Prisoner

#7 BoJack Horseman

#4 The Decalogue

#1 Twin Peaks

And now for the Spin’s Full Top 60 (with some “oh-so-close’s”) Continue reading

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To Rome With Love

There are a lot of characters in the new Woody Allen movie.

At one point in Woody Allen’s rambling, absurdist, vignette stuffed, overflowing pasta dish of a new film, Woody’s character says to his psychiatrist wife (Judy Davis) when she tries to psychoanalyze him something to the effect of, “Go ahead, thousands have tried and failed.”  On the surface Woody appears to be attempting it on himself here in To Rome With Love.  As is such with latter-day Allen flicks, this one is a beautifully photographed postcard of a film, pseudo-intellectual stuff for American tourists, as much a fluffy love letter to Rome as it is a love letter to Allen himself.  But Woody is only psychoanalyzing himself for comedic effect (I suppose that’s the eternal self-loather in him), and in many ways this film is as much a jab at his fickle critics and fans who seem lost in this haze that every other film of his stinks.  Some are clearly better than others (thus is the curse of being prolific) – but they rarely stink.  But if you insist on categorizing this thing, I would say this is at the higher end of the low-end of post millennial Woody.  Yes…I guess it’s just above middling, if you must.

There are a million stories in the eternal city, and Allen – the seemingly eternal filmmaker – finds in Rome a kindred spirit.  Damn his silly old soul if he doesn’t try to tell a million of those stories in a single film.  Continue reading

Love Songs for Dead Media

Tom Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists, reads like a collection of short stories, each one focusing on a different character swirling around in the soon to be ashes of an international English-language newspaper based in Rome.  At the end of each episode, Rachman reports in brief serialized fashion on the origins of the paper, a noble but doomed-to-fail experiment, and its different near-deaths over the years before instant-globalization and access to news through the internet put the final nail in its coffin.  What he achieves is a series of love songs (some better composed than others) serenading a dead media: the newspaper…romantic, archaic, quaint…obsolete. Continue reading

For the Glory of ROME!

…and so Sunday, March 25, 2007 marked the end of one of the greatest television shows ever produced, Rome.

A massive and sprawling co-production of HBO and the BBC filmed on location on elaborate and wildly expensive sets in Italy, Rome spanned two seasons and close to two decades of ancient history.  Essentially, this was a 22-hour feature film, quite unlike anything ever done before, and probably nothing that comes after it will ever compare.  Full of ferocious violence, scintillating sex, politics, war, and scores of nudity, Rome was both ribald and regal, presenting a pulsing, bleeding and frightfully alive view of Roman history from Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul to (Augustus) Octavian Caesar’s triumph over the rebel Marc Antony and Cleopatra. 

The show took much liberty with history, creating liaisons both sexual and political which most likely never existed, and presented much of the complex and intertwining stories through the eyes of Titus Pullo (played by a virulent but jolly Ray Stevenson) and Lucious Vorenus (played with a stoic self-hatred by Kevin McKidd)–fictional soldiers of Rome whose lives went on tragic roller coasters with the rise and fall of power.  Everyone will have their favorite side story or character (I particularly grew fond of Posca and Jocasta in the end), and the final episode culminated with all the grand drama you would expect from the double suicide of Antony and Cleopatra.  It was a scenario done many times over by some of the greatest writers in history and put to film before, but never done with so much realistic gusto, gritty spectacle, and true emotion.

Like all great soap operas that have tackled ancient history, Rome featured an awesome cast of finely tuned British thespians:

Polly Walker was simply amazing as the highly fictionalized and slanderous take on Atia-the scheming, manipulative, and powerful niece of Julius Caesar and mother to Octavian.  Her quietly tragic story arc ultimately made her sympathetic despite all the evil things she had done.  Her closing line to Livia about “far greater women than you have plotted against me” in the final episode made me want to cheer.  Walker’s performance was juicy and salacious fun without ever resorting to scenery chewing.

 

James Purefoy was a pitch perfect Marc Antony, showcasing the character as a ruthless madman of a general beloved by his people and an ineffective politician whose greatest weapon was his ability to put fear into the Senate and nobility.  He delivered his lines with equal parts pomposity and deadpan humor.  His, “Now that’s an exit,” upon seeing Servilia commit suicide outside of Atia’s house was nothing short of classic. 

Lyndsey Marshall presented us with a writhing, seething depiction of Cleopatra, demure and charming in public, debaucherous and raging in private, multi-faceted and more real than any past portrayal of the infamous Egyptian queen.  Here we saw a woman desperately seeking to hold onto a crumbling empire, using her intelligence, charm, and sexuality to gain political pull.  When she gives her dying breaths to Octavian after kissing the asp and tells him, “You have a rotten soul,” you know she means it, and by the look in his eyes, she’s made him believe it. 

Kerry Condon as a flighty but endearing Octavia, Lindsay Duncan as an arrogant and self-aggrandizing Servilia, Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar, Tobias Menzies as sniveling Brutus, the exotically beautiful Indira Varma as Niobe, Ian McNiece as the overly dramatic and sometimes comical Forum Newsreader, and Max Pirkis and later Simon Woods as Octavian were simply perfect in their roles as were the hundreds of others playing the fascinating parade of lively fictional and historical characters.

After Octavian’s triumph, the final episode closes on a slightly false note presenting us with an alternative view of documented facts that plays on the more fanciful connections made between the fictional characters and the actual history.  Still, it was a grand finale to a truly superb series that will be sorely missed.  Nero and Caligula, we didn’t even get to know you.

Written by David H. Schleicher