My love affair with AMC … mostly!

Once upon a time—or maybe more—I’ve blogged about the TV programs I watch, and I questioned why they’re all dramas. Sometimes late at night I watch old sitcoms, some from the 70s, but none current. I don’t know why. Anyway, today I’m sharing thoughts on a few of my current favorite dramas—and four of the five air on AMC.

Photo credit: ellenm1 / Foter / CC BY
Photo credit: ellenm1 / Foter / CC BY

I’m excited because the final episodes of Breaking Bad will air on AMC soon. I came late to the series and watched all four and a half seasons in two weeks this past winter. I’ve rewatched some episodes and I’ll  read the recaps of the others to refresh my memory before the last eight episodes air. Right now, I want Hank to bring down Walt and something good to happen for Jesse. And I still miss that villain extraordinaire, Gus.

Another show I came late to view is The Killing. I caught up on the first two seasons just as the third started airing. The writing and acting in the first two seasons was excellent, so it shocked me to learn that AMC had announced last summer they would not renew the show for a third season. Luckily, they changed their mind when Netflix bid to take it over. Emotionally damaged detectives Linden and Holder are amazing to watch.

Speaking of Netflix, they experimented by debuting the entire first season of their original series, House of Cards, at once. It was a big hit in our house. My husband and I binge watched, and now we bemoan the wait for the second season. The writing and acting is top notch. Francis Underwood has not done a single thing to inspire my faith in politics, though.

I believe I’ve told you before that I’m a fan of Mad Men, also on AMC, and though I couldn’t connect fully with this sixth season, I think that was my problem. The quality has never disappointed me, so I expect to appreciate this season more in retrospect. I’m beginning to think Don Draper is a cat—which of his nine lives will he be on next season? So many characters to love and hate—sometimes simultaneously. But that makes good drama, no?

My AMC guilty pleasure is Walking Dead. I can’t quite believe I’m watching a show about zombies, but there you go. Not a spoof or dramedy, this is a frightening and complicated tale as Rick and his tribe struggle to survive both the zombies and the psychopathic Governor. And three main characters were killed in last season’s finale! Actually, I guess I don’t feel guilt for watching it. I’m looking forward to October and finding out where the writers take the story next.

Two things these shows have in common are good writing and good acting. I think a lot about the writing, of course. Actors are inspired to do their best when they’re presented with good writing just as fictional characters are developed fully by well-written narrative.

I probably won’t ever write about drug dealers, homicide cops, politics, the 60s advertising business, or a zombie apocalypse, but drama is drama. I’m learning while I watch. As I prepare to start my next novel, I visualize my characters acting out their drama, but they’re only ghosts of who they’ll become when I flesh them out with narrative.

I can hardly wait to type The End.

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When the writing draws you in

I don’t watch TV much. Every season I have two or three programs I never miss. I mentioned my guilty pleasure, American Idol, in my last post. The other shows I follow are dramas. In recent years, I was a big fan of series like Oz, The Sopranos, The Wire, and Lost. Now it’s Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, and Treme. (Hmmm, I guess HBO wins.)

Treme is set in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The show follows several characters as they try to put their lives back together. I have my favorites, though the writers are capable of changing my mind about a couple of the others. And you never know when they’ll kill off a main character like they did in the first season.

This season, one of the storylines has been about the rise of crime. People who used to feel safe in their homes and places of business are finding the “rules” have changed in post-Katrina New Orleans. I watched one scene with growing dread.

As La Donna turns off the lights and prepares to close up her bar for the night, a young man in a hooded sweatshirt knocks on the window, “We’re closed,” she tells him. He’s looking for a different bar and lost. She talks to him through the glass and gives him directions to the place he’s looking for. Then he asks if he can come in and use the phone. Wisely, she tells him, “No phone.” She asks his name, he’s evasive, and she pulls out her cell phone, telling him she’s calling the police to come down and help him.

The kid walks away. As La Donna’s talking to the police, she waves to friends who’ve called to her as they walk down the other side of the street. She gathers her keys and purse. She pauses for a moment, looks back at the window, then she lifts her chin, tosses her hair back, and walks to the door. The street is deserted now. It’s quiet. The scene is shadowed, reddish, barely lit from the streetlight in front of her, the Christmas lights behind her.

I’m on alert; afraid I know what’s coming. “No,” I say. La Donna opens the door, steps out, and turns to relock it. Before she can, she glances to her right, and the camera pans to show the kid step around the corner of her building. He asks her about the directions again, sounding innocent, but the camera pans back to La Donna and you see the fear in her eyes. A shadow looms behind her. She turns toward it. There’s another man. I speak louder now. “No. Don’t.”

She scrambles back inside, shoving with all her might to close and lock the door, but it’s a futile attempt against the guys on the other side. As they burst through, she backs away, and throws her purse to them. “Take it,” she says, “it’s $200 dollars.”

“Please, don’t,” I plead—with the intruders or the writers or both. I hold my breath. La Donna tries to sound tough, cursing and ordering them out, but her voice betrays her. She stumbles backward, grabs a sawed-off broomstick, and starts swinging. “Yes!” I say, hopeful.

But then, I see the intruders still advancing slowly, quietly, determined. I am crushed.

The scene cuts away. I won’t tell you the rest. I just wanted to share how good writing grabs me, pulls me in, and makes me feel it. That’s how I want to write. That’s how I want you to write. Let’s do it.

Treme photos credit: HBO.
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Inspired, but ignorant

I had planned to write today’s post on a completely different topic, but yesterday I took a break from reading to watch a movie, and it’s still on my mind. Recently, I looked at my Netflix queue and saw it had grown to almost 300 movies. If you knew how infrequently I sit down to watch a movie you’d know how totally ridiculous that number is.

So, I went through the list deleting many I no longer had an interest in seeing. I came to one I didn’t recognize the name of at all. When the little info bubble popped up—an immigrant son has a conflict with his father—I realized I must have added it back when I was still doing research on the novel I’ve now finished. Although I no longer needed it for research, I decided to move it up in the queue.

I didn’t note the movie’s category. Because I saw it starred Kal Penn (of Harold and Kumar fame) and thought I had a vague memory of the trailer, I assumed this movie was more a comedy. I don’t know what trailer I thought I remembered, but it wasn’t for The Namesake. Yes, that one, the film adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel. Her Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The one I’d never heard of before this. Pathetic, aren’t I?

Although there are some humorous moments, The Namesake is far from a comedy. It’s a beautiful drama. Beautifully acted, beautifully filmed, beautifully scripted. I cried. More than once. I loved it. Absolutely. I want a copy.

When the movie was over, I went to Amazon to look up the book. I read some sample pages, and though it’s written in present tense, (not my fave) I will read the book. But more importantly, I want to write a book that could be adapted into such a movie. I want to touch someone’s heart that way. Not necessarily to make them cry, but to make them feel they’ve experienced something special by reading it.

Have you seen the movie or read the book?

By the way: I’d like to note that my last post, which was really only a photo of a painting and not a post at all, received as many page hits and comments as most of my real posts. Hmmm, I’m wondering if I should read something into that.

When did I quit laughing?

All right, I haven’t quit laughing totally, but as far as television viewing I laugh a lot less than I used to. That fact occurred to me recently when I saw a candy bar commercial featuring Abe Vigoda and Betty White. Of course, Barney Miller and Golden Girls popped into my mind. Then I started thinking of all the sitcoms I used to watch, from The Dick Van Dyke show to Jerry Seinfeld, which was probably the last one I made a point to watch weekly.

Is it my age? It’s a sobering thought to think I might reach an age where I no longer have a sense of humor. But that’s not the case now. I can laugh. I like to laugh. And especially late at night as I drink a glass of wine while watching reruns, I do laugh—unless I’ve tuned in Law & Order. That’s the problem really: somewhere along the line I switched my viewing preference to drama.

Is there a TV aficionado out there? Did the ratio of TV drama to sitcom used to be different than now? While I was busy watching M*A*S*H and Cheers and The Cosby Show, what dramas did I ignore?

I believe at one time I watched at least one sitcom a night. Sometime during the 90’s I even got hooked on British sitcoms. Now, I regularly watch none … from any country. And now that I think of it, I don’t see many movies that are comedies either. Wow! I might be turning into a real sourpuss. I think I’d better order Spinal Tap from Netflix.

Do you watch less comedy than you used to?

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Photo credit: Jaxxon