Moving Pictures: Don’t waste your time

Summer is here, the pools are open, the BBQs are grilling and the quality shows on cable TV have never been better. So why waste your time with over-hyped garbage?

As a public service, the Cable Guy now offers, at no additional charge (and how often do you hear that these days?) an occasional guide to the shows that aren’t worth your time to be bored by.

THE NEWSROOM – HBO – Wasn’t seven seasons of The West Wing enough? But for those still insatiable for Aaron Sorkin’s infantile fantasies of The Way Things Ought to be – here is a reheat of all his interminable repeating clichés transplanted from the White House to a supposed network news operation. A potentially superlative cast (Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, the delectable Emily Mortimer) is forced to mouth all the obvious High Thoughts and Literate Moments like a British Army climbing out of the trenches to be fed to the German machine-guns at Passchendaele. This completely unrealistic myth of what even an adequate broadcast newsroom is and ought to be like deserves a far more detailed, vigorous dissection, and I’ll try and get round to doing it, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

DALLAS – TNT – It is still a joy to see the magnificent Larry Hagman, one of the greatest of all TV stars, to chew up the scenery at age 80, and who can begrudge him the far paler presence of his old friends Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray– by his side. But really, this is the kind of half-baked resurrection that gives zombies a good name.

The absurdities of the so-called plot are a study in ignorance. Oil drilling is not, in itself, always Evil. The hero, Bobby’s son Christopher, drives a Tesla and looks for clean energy redemption from China. For a show set in Texas, home of the most advanced oil and natural gas en industry and engineers on the planet, this is ludicrously inept. The new Dallas seeks to woo the readers of the National Inquirer and the great hinterland of West Wing dupes (who voted it Best Drama of All Time in a recent TV Guide poll: Really, what were they all smoking?) with a two- dimensional morality play that could have been written (and probably was) – in a 200-word outline tossed off by Aaron Sorkin.

However the show’s central flaw is the failure of the producers to realize that they can’t clone or reproduce the charisma or riveting talent of the great Hagman, and at age 80, gallant trouper though he is, he can’t hold up the show any more by himself. Josh Henderson can smolder as much as he likes in Desperate Housewives, but he’s hilariously out of his depth and over-extended as a new-generation JR.

Dallas, as expected, premiered big with 6.8 million viewers and may well bluster itself to success for a season or two, at least if Hagman, bless him, can keep up his production schedule. But don’t rule out the possibility that over the next couple of months it will sink like a stone: If that happens the only hope for the survival of this Jurassic clunker would lie in slashing its budget by 90 percent and shifting it to the afternoon to replace the still-missed All My Children and provide some relief from The View. Make the move: Daytime Emmy’s await!


Even BBC America was sufficiently embarrassed by this awful white elephant to end repeat viewings of it the same night it ran. For BBC America, like other basic channels, taking that step is more humiliating and final than committing hara-kiri as a way of tacitly acknowledging a mess-up of historic dimensions.

White Heat follows the lives over 25 years of seven British students from the rebellious 1960s to the enlightened 1990s. Most of them are depressing, repulsive, and whiners to boot. The one or two relatively sympathetic ones are still uniformly depressing and unremittingly boring. Even wonderful British talents like Michael Kitchen, Juliet Stevenson and Jeremy Northam can make no headway against scripts this predictable. Downton Abbey it ain’t.

Was Sixties and Seventies England really this bad? I can testify that it really was. Life is precious. Why waste any of it watching this recycled sludge?


A shame to see a fine actor like Robert Taylor let down by relentlessly clichéd and mechanical scripting, directing, and production – you name it. The inspiration for Longmire as a contemporary Western clearly came from the wonderful Justified on FX. But the big white broad Western hat that the strong, silent sheriff hero plays is the only thing that Taylor’s character and Timothy Olyphant’s riveting Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens onJustified have in common.

Graham Yost does not guide and shape the scripts of this dreary plod; Elmore Leonard nowhere inspires any of its minimum adequacy scripts; And the performances of the caliber of Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Margo Martindale and Neil McDonagh that light up every episode of Justified are nowhere in sight.

Poor Katee Sackhoff who was so good in Battlestar Galactica sadly sinks like a stone here. A&E’s dismal track record in producing cable dramas continues. What a contrast to the wonderful Hatfields & McCoys mini-series on the History Channel which took the trouble to find and cast Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton in the kind of roles they were bred to play.