Riverdale: This Ain’t Your Childhood’s Archie Andrews

There’s a good old all-American “gee whiz” quality about Archie comics, those tried and true comic books that have been around since your grandpa thumbed through an issue back in the 1940s. You won’t find that in the new TV version airing on the CW network.

No, in the latest installment, Kevin Keller was trolling the woods for anonymous gay hook-ups and Archie was becoming a vigilante. They have, as they say, strayed from the canon.

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Riverdale is the CW’s riff on all-American boy Archie Andrews and his pals, but you won’t find these stories in your comic book collection.

I have to admit to being fascinated by this show. I generally like it when people take risks with interpreting potentially stale material. I enjoyed the now-cancelled Will, the punk rock meets Shakespeare take on the Bard. I think the new Dynasty reboot is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. And I find the BBC’s Still Open All Hours a sweet (and still funny) homage to the original.

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Original Archie and TV Archie. New Zealander KJ Apa plays the famously red haired hero thanks to a lot of hair dye.

Riverdale is a mashup of Archie Comics, Twin Peaks and every Brat Pack 80s movie. It’s dark — and getting darker by the episode — and more than a bit twisted (Archie had a torrid affair with Miss Grundy; Kevin had a one-off with Moose Mason; Jughead is a fledging gang member).

The storylining is good, the dialogue is a little bit forced, and they may be trying a bit too hard for relevance. Is it too much to ask to see a teen scene at the Chock’lit Shoppe where they are not talking about a murder? Or gangland troubles from the Southside Serpents? Or Riverdale’s new drug scourge, “jingle jangle?”

I do have to give them some props for the Kevin in the woods hooking-up story. It’s a pretty deep take on an issue that we certainly are not seeing on television. It’s going to cause a big riff between Kevin (a strong performance from Casey Cott) and BFF Betty Cooper, but it raises some pretty potent issues that deserve to be talked about. (I’d encourage a read of Ariana Romero’s recent excellent piece on Refinery29.)

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One-time teen screen idols Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210) and Molly Ringwald (Pretty in Pink) play Archie’s estranged parents in Riverdale.

Forsythe Pendleton Jones, III — you’ll probably know him best as Jughead — narrates the thing. And former Disney tween star Cole Sprouse does a fine job of playing a broody, intelligent, jaded, slightly smart-mouthed chronicler in a ‘whoopee cap.’

He is, for all the world, channeling every broody, intelligent, jaded, slightly smart-mouthed character that Andrew McCarthy played in every movie he was ever in in the 80s (with the possible exception of Weekend at Bernie’s). But, while it may be derivative, I can’t say it’s a bad thing!

Take old Riverdale out for a spin and see what you think. Whatever happens, you won’t be feeling any warm, fuzzy childhood nostalgia, that’s for sure!

Lovely Signs of Life

I’ve just had the chance to view a screener of Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Adam Wachter’s short film Sign and if I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be “beautiful.”

Sign is the story of a relationship told entirely through sign language. It’s a bold choice, using a language that the vast majority of your audience is likely not to know and to eschew title cards or captions. It is, however, the correct choice.

John McGinty and Preston Sadleir are the couple at the center of the piece and there is never a moment when they are not sublime. McGinty has one of the most expressive faces and, for a young actor, he shows such a masterly of subtleness that I found it difficult to pull my focus away from him. That, of course, would be my loss, as Sadleir matches him note for note.

As a deaf actor, McGinty is, perhaps expectedly, a master signer and his signing is effortless. Sadleir, the hearing actor, who, in the story, learns ASL to better communicate with his new boyfriend, has a nice arc as you watch the clumsy early signing become more and more deft as the story progresses.

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Preston Sadleir (l) is Ben and John McGinty is Aaron in the terrific short film, Sign.

Keenan-Bolger is, of course, one of Broadway’s Keenan-Bolger siblings whose individual and collective talents seem utterly boundless. He has, in addition to acting and singing and dancing, made quite the second career as a content creator, director, YA author, and filmmaker. He’s a dab hand behind the camera as well as in front. A gifted comedic actor (do yourself a favor and watch him in the web series Submissions Only, which he co-created with Kate Wetherhead), he shows a more sensitive and mature side here. His direction is smart and his cinematography shows he’s ready for a full-length project next.

Don’t think he’s given up the cheeky wit, though. Here, Sadleir’s Ben is seen teaching himself ASL with a Signing for Dummies book; our main couple watch a program on television that’s actually another Keenan-Bolger short, The Ceiling Fan; and he even puts his real-life boyfriend in as a Grindr trick!

Sign is billed as a “silent film,” but that’s giving short shrift to Wachter, whose score is note perfect throughout. It is the foundation upon which these vignettes rest and it seems to me that it functions more than mere underscoring and, instead, buttresses the scenes as a recitative for sign language. His variations on the same musical theme work to ensure that this series of short, disjointed scenes mesh together in a cohesive whole. It might help that Wachter wrote the story as well.

The “truth in journalism” part of this is that I had access to the screener because I gave to the crowd funding initiative for this film. It was worth every penny. Find out if its playing at a local film festival by visiting their website or following the film on Facebook and if you find that it’s playing nearby, then go! You’ll not regret it.

Kudos, Van

Someone has bestowed one of the coveted Groovy Awards for Web Series Excellence on EastSiders star, Van Hansis for his portrayal of Thom in the second season of the series. Van was named, Grooviest Actor in a Drama. I just can’t argue with that. At all.

Van Hansis as Thom opposite Kit Williamson in EastSiders.

This is the second time this trophy (?) has been lain at Mr. Hansis’ feet. Read all about it here.

What I’ve said on the subject. Twice.

The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on Days of Our Lives

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Christopher Sean, Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson played “the gays of Salem” on Days of our Lives. They are seen here at the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2015.

The cut below is from a good article by Jim Halterman regarding the loss of the big LGBT storyline on NBC’s Days of our Lives.

While I understand new writers coming in with their own objectives and vision for the show as well as the preoccupation with celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the show, the fact that the LGBT presence (which has brought the show accolades over the past few years) is dwindling is definitely disconcerting.

Source: The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on ‘Days of Our Lives.’ | XFINITY TV Blog by Comcast

Like many people, I was extremely invested in the so-called WilSon story over the last four years and DAYS’ blockheaded move — certainly in my estimation — to take this story off the table led me to say good riddance to the show and stop watching.

Here again is my take to augment Halterman’s.

My Emmys List

The 2015 Emmy Award nominations were announced today. Here’s a rundown of my initial thoughts. This is not a predictions list; this is more of a “wish list,” by and large. There are a few gaping holes here. Why? Because I watch most of my TV not on TV these days, so I am clueless about some of these shows. Here goes nothing; let’s see how well I do come September when Andy Samberg (what?) hosts the awards show.

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Image: emmys.com

Outstanding Drama Series
Never bet against Downton Abbey; though I think it should be Orange is the New Black

Outstanding Comedy Series
The sentimental favorite may be the always-excellent, late and lamented Parks and Recreation, but I would hope that it would go to the amazing Transparent.

Outstanding Lead Actor (Drama)
I thought Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom was outstanding but I think this may be Kevin Spacey’s statue.

Outstanding Lead Actor (Comedy)
I can’t imagine it won’t go to Jeffrey Tambor, but I am such an unabashed Shameless fan that I can’t not put my money on Bill Macy. And for the record, it’s a crime that only two members of that cast were nominated. Why is Noel Fisher overlooked every year? He’s the finest supporting actor on television right now, bar none.

Outstanding Lead Actress (Drama)
I’d like to see it go to Taraji P. Henson for Empire, but I’d be happy if Viola Davis got it for How to Get Away With Murder. I’ll be upset if Elisabeth Moss gets it as a Mad Men sentimental favorite. Not that Ms. Moss isn’t terrific; but those other women are fierce.

Actress Lily Tomlin poses for a portrait at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, March 15, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

The indomitable Lily Tomlin. |Image: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Outstanding Lead Actress (Comedy)
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie. I’m kind of surprised Jane Fonda is not on this list for the same show. I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but I think Fonda’s a bit better. Tomlin’s funnier, but Fonda, well, she’s Jane freakin’ Fonda, man! There is a part of me that would like to see Amy Schumer walk away with this one, though.

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Drama)
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones. There. Done.

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Comedy)
This is a tight category for me, but I think I would pull out deadpan gay police captain Andre Braugher from Brooklyn Nine Nine. He’s just as good in this as in his Emmy-winning role as Det. Frank Pembleton in Homicide: Life on the Street, my all-time favorite police drama. Keegan-Michael Key is another in this category that should be rewarded. Tony Hale is hysterical on Veep.

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Drama)
How odd is this? I have no opinion here.

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Comedy)
Again, a very strong category but I really like Allison Janney here. Jane Krakowski is wonderful on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but I feel it’s a bit of a rehash of her 30 Rock character.

Outstanding Limited Series
I have a feeling that HBO’s Olive Kitteridge is going to walk away with awards in this sub-category. Why? Because I thought it was dull as dishwater and deadly boring. I fell asleep twice and then just gave up.

Outstanding Variety Talk Series
Any one of these six nominees could walk away with this one. Will it be Letterman as the sentimental favorite? Or Jon Stewart? Or Stephen Colbert? If it were up to me, I’d hand that golden girl to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series
I would be happy with Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer or Drunk History. Saturday Night Live and Portlandia? Meh.

William H. Macy and Joan Cusack in Shameless, my vote for the best series on television. |Image: Showtime.

Outstanding Guest Actress (Comedy Series)
Joan Cusak, Shameless. In my mind she has no competition. There’s never been another character quite like Sheila Jackson. She’s just epic in that role. Epic!

Outstanding Guest Actor (Drama Series)
There’s a lot of heavy hitters in this category. I’m going to say Alan Alda for The Blacklist.

Outstanding Guest Actress (Drama Series)
No contest: Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away With Murder. If she does not take home the Emmy, there is something deeply, deeply wrong with the system.

There you go. Do with that what you will.

Grace Notes — Netflix’s ‘Grace & Frankie’

I spent much of my free time over the last week binge watching the first season of the new Netflix comedy Grace & Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. There are 13 episodes, each just a little bit better than the last.

Here’s the set up, in case you haven’t heard of this already: Grace (Fonda) is married to Robert (Martin Sheen). Frankie (Tomlin) is married to Sol (Sam Waterston). Robert and Sol are law partners. Grace and Frankie tolerate each other on their best days, Robert and Sol confess to Grace and Frankie that they’ve been having an affair — with each other! — for the last 20 years. And that’s your set up.

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Waterston, Tomlin, Fonda and Sheen are the talented quartet that lead the superlative new Netflix series Grace and Frankie. |Image: Indiewire.

It’s a fairly straightforward sitcom fish-out-of-water plot, albeit with a modern twist, and in the hands of average actors, the material — which is, by the by, crisply and tightly written — would do just fine, but this is an example of what happens when you hand a script to a quartet of the finest actors you can imagine and just let them run with it.

Fonda and Tomlin haven’t lost a beat since they last acted together in 9 to 5 three and a half decades ago, Tomlin is as gifted today as she was on Laugh-In the 1960s. There is such a dearth of good, meaty roles for older women and this show is the perfect example of what can happen when good material ends up in the hands of women who can show you how it’s supposed to be done. They are such a pleasure to watch. There are plenty of good scenes in this show, but the two-handers with Tomlin and Fonda, well, you feel like you are peeking in on something truly special. And you are.

And another thing: Jane Fonda is 77 years old. She is, without a doubt, the sexiest 77-year-old in the world. Luminous. Utterly and completely luminous.

I saw an early notice where the writer said that Sheen and Waterston seemed uncomfortable with the physicality of their roles. After seeing a few episodes, I went back to that. This person is not an older gay man, I concluded. And I was right: the author was a young woman.

Granted, Sheen and Waterston have a few decades on me, but I absolutely see the truth in these men, who have finally come to terms with who they are so late in life. It is not yet fluid to them. They are very affectionate, but a bit more reserved, a bit more tentative. They have lived through a time when showing too much affection was a recipe for a beating. Or death. I understand their reserve more than people younger than I, but I also cannot comprehend the terror that that generation faced. They are effortless, exceptional performers and I think this is the best, most authentic portrayal of older gay men we’ve yet seen on television.

The first thirteen are not tied up in a pretty bow. There’s a bittersweet little twist at the end of the last episode. There are belly laughs aplenty, but this show is much deeper than a traditional sitcom. There are places where hard subjects are tackled and the drama that informs the comedy is allowed to play out. It’s a smart, smart series. I wouldn’t expect anything less from this bunch.

So, do yourself a favor, watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

‘S Wonderful Max von Essen

Kevin Fallon conducted a great interview with Max von Essen for The Daily Beast and I think you should read it.

Von Essen stars in the new Broadway show, An American in Paris, by all accounts a lush new show with a Gershwin score full of standards to die for. (Perhaps obviously, it’s based on the 1951 Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron picture, only with a new book by Craig Lucas.) Von Essen’s not new to the table — I still regret not being able to see him in Evita — but he’s one of those solid performers that you can always depend on. You may not instantly remember his name, but hardcore theatre-goers certainly do. Maybe that will change now.

Anyhow, from Fallon’s interview:

Interestingly enough, one of the first facts listed about von Essen on his Wikipedia page is that he is openly gay, something that he laughs about, but clearly doesn’t mind.

“If I don’t get a TV show next year because someone looks up my Wikipedia and it says ‘openly gay,’ then it’s worth the risk because I’ve had so many years being openly gay and proud of myself as a role model.”

“Especially for me on Broadway, of all places, I know people who are gay but living a bit of a lie in my own community,” he says. “And I’m thinking, ‘You’re on Broadway! You do musical theater! Of all places to hide yourself? Are you kidding? Enjoy. Be yourself.’”

Bravo, sir, bravo.

You can see von Essen in the hilarious web series Submissions Only. He has delightful comic timing — and he’s easy on the eyes. What’s not to love?

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Max von Essen, far left, played Cameron Dante, the boyfriend of Steven Bienskie’s Stephen Ferrell (third from left, in tie) in the delightful comedy about the other side of theatre, Submissions Only. Also pictured are Anne L. Nathan, creators Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead, Colin Hanlon, Wade McCollum and Lindsay Nicole Chambers.|Image: Curtis Brown/Broadway World