Television

The contradictions of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War

By Patrick Martin, 2 October 2017

The 18-hour documentary series on PBS combines gripping images of the US war, an exposure of the lies and crimes of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and a narrative that seems intended to block any serious understanding of American imperialism.

David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return—Living inside a dream?

By Hiram Lee, 20 September 2017

Twenty-five years after its last episode aired, Twin Peaks, the surreal small-town mystery, has been brought back to life by David Lynch.

2017 Emmy Awards: Sean Spicer, self-congratulations and identity politics

By David Walsh, 19 September 2017

The media was more or less agreed Monday that the highlight of the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards was the brief appearance by Trump’s former press secretary.

HBO’s Westworld: Blood, guts and pseudo-philosophy

By Carlos Delgado, 21 August 2017

The acclaimed science fiction drama imagines a futuristic amusement park populated by ultra-lifelike robots.

Albert Einstein’s life, or parts of it, in the first season of National Geographic’s Genius

By Bryan Dyne, 20 July 2017

The 10-episode season depicts the life of one of the most renowned scientists in world history without paying much attention to the science he developed.

Season Three of Better Call Saul: Objection! Relevance!

By Ed Hightower, 1 July 2017

The prequel to AMC’s hit Breaking Bad has an identity crisis, and in Season Three resolves this by largely becoming another cop drama.

House of Cards, Season 5 and the “death of the Age of Reason”

By Hiram Lee, 20 June 2017

The newest season of the Netflix drama House of Cards sees the corrupt administration of President Frank Underwood struggling to retain power while battling rival factions within the state.

Poisoned Water: “NOVA” science series broadcasts segment on Flint water crisis

By James Brewer, 3 June 2017

The Public Broadcasting Service presented an engaging and informative documentary on the science behind the Flint water crisis.

Netflix’s War Machine: A hard-hitting attack on America’s military madness

By Joanne Laurier, 30 May 2017

The film admirably revives a venerable tradition of anti-military and anti-war drama and comedy in the US.

Anthony Bourdain in Laos

A rare media examination of the US saturation bombing of Laos

By Walter Gilberti, 27 May 2017

Perhaps only a culinary celebrity can evade the wall of self-censorship in the American media to discuss a war crime committed by the US military.

Netflix series Dear White People: Self-pity in the service of social climbing

By Joanne Laurier, 24 May 2017

The first season of the new Netflix 10-part series, Dear White People, an expansion of Justin Simien’s 2014 movie, concerns a group of black students at a fictional, predominantly white, Ivy League college.

Season 6 of HBO’s Girls: Ending with a whimper

By Ed Hightower, 15 May 2017

The few elements that might have been the show’s saving grace vanish in this final season as Girls dives hard into the morass of identity politics and “personal responsibility.”

Stranger Things, Season One: Government spying and the supernatural in the 1980s

By Matthew MacEgan, 12 May 2017

The series’ first season tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who goes missing in a small town where a top-secret government agency is running tests on supernatural phenomena.

13 Reasons Why: The unhappiness of youth

By Genevieve Leigh, 10 May 2017

The new Netflix series treats the background to the decision by Hannah Baker, a high school student in a more or less average American suburb, to kill herself…and its consequences.

Woody Allen’s Crisis in Six Scenes and the current cultural vacuum

By Joanne Laurier, 3 November 2016

Woody Allen’s Crisis in Six Scenes, commissioned by Amazon Studios, is a television miniseries set in the period of the anti-Vietnam War protests.

The TV film “Terror” and the attack on democratic rights in Germany

By Johannes Stern and Peter Schwarz, 24 October 2016

The TV film “Terror—Your Verdict” was a deliberate political spectacle to promote German militarism, undermine the constitution, and nullify elementary democratic rights.

Season 3 of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman: Hollywoo(d) and mental illness

By Josh Varlin, 15 August 2016

Netflix’s original animated series BoJack Horseman manages to provide a comedic yet thoughtful look at the entertainment industry and the psychic damage it inflicts.

Lady Dynamite and other Netflix comedies

By Ed Hightower, 6 August 2016

A number of new comedies on Netflix offer mixed results.

HBO’s Veep: Lots of profanity, but not enough of what’s truly ugly

By Carlos Delgado, 2 August 2016

The popular HBO television comedy stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, a hopelessly inept and unprincipled US vice president who ascends to the presidency.

Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, season 4: Does the positive outweigh the negative?

By Ed Hightower, 26 July 2016

The fourth season of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, the comedy-drama set in a fictional women’s federal prison, is now available.

HBO’s “Girls”: What should the voice of this generation say?

By Carlos Delgado, 3 June 2016

Praise for Lena Dunham’s “Girls” generally lauds its “frankness” and “realism” about the unpleasant, even ugly, aspects of life for American youth.

UK documentary exposes Saudi role in global terror operations

By Jean Shaoul, 5 April 2016

The Saudi ruling family spent $70 billion exporting its particularly repressive form of Islamism through books, the media, Islamic welfare institutions and charities.

“We make the terror:” Season four of House of Cards

By Andre Damon, 24 March 2016

The latest season of the Netflix series suggests that the US government facilitates terrorism to keep a lid on domestic opposition, spies on the population for political gain, and conspires to go to war for Machiavellian ends.

American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson: An indictment of American celebrity culture

By Charles Bogle, 8 March 2016

The FX series examines the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in June 1994, for which former football star O. J. Simpson was charged.

Television programme shows how German companies benefit from privatisation in Greece

By Verena Nees, 30 July 2015

The “Trust Fund” is the centrepiece of the EU’s new austerity programme and is aimed at plundering the Greek economy.

USA Network’s Mr. Robot: A provocative start, but where will it go?

By Christine Schofelt and David Walsh, 17 July 2015

Making a direct appeal to debt-ridden youth and branding itself as “anti-corporate,” Mr. Robot raises many issues. But how does it deal with them?

Silicon Valley: HBO’s satire of American tech culture

By Kevin Reed, 4 July 2015

Created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, the series follows the ups and downs of six young men who live together in a Silicon Valley “business startup incubator.”

Australian audiences turn off Gallipoli TV war drama

By Richard Phillips, 13 March 2015

The multi-episode program, which glorifies Australian military involvement in the World War I invasion of Turkey, has been ratings failure.

Downton Abbey: A rose-tinted depiction of class relations

By Paul Mitchell, 14 January 2015

Downton Abbey, set in Yorkshire, depicts the lives of the Crawley family and their 16 servants in the early decades of the twentieth century.

HBO’s Olive Kitteridge: Why are these people so unhappy?

By Joanne Laurier, 10 November 2014

Adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, HBO’s miniseries Olive Kitteridge deals with life in a small community on the coast of Maine.

HBO’s True Detective: Gruesome doings and deep-going pessimism

By Christine Schofelt, 28 August 2014

Presented in an almost painterly fashion, the first season of True Detective offers up a sad picture indeed.

The Newburgh Sting: A case of entrapment

By Isaac Finn, 27 August 2014

The HBO documentary reveals how the FBI and mainstream media worked to get four impoverished men in New York state convicted of a “terrorist plot.”

Mad Men, season seven, first half: A step forward for US television?

By Charles Bogle, 30 July 2014

The AMC series, about an ad agency in the 1960s, has attracted a great deal of attention for its efforts to recreate the social atmosphere and circumstances of those years.

Netflix’s Orange is the New Black: Humanity inside a US women’s prison

By Ed Hightower, 20 June 2014

The television series, based on the experiences of a former inmate, takes a generally serious and realistic look—something terribly rare on American television—at the prison population in the US.

CNN’s Chicagoland: Propaganda for Mayor Emanuel

By Jeff Lusanne and George Marlowe, 29 May 2014

Recent emails reveal that the producers of the documentary series Chicagoland worked closely with the Emanuel administration.

Cosmos reboot falls short of the mark

By Bryan Dyne, 14 April 2014

The remake of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, has its moments, but does not go far enough either in its exposition of science or its criticism of anti-science.

House of Cards, season 2: The American politician as conspirator and murderer

By Joanne Laurier, 21 February 2014

The second season of House of Cards, the series produced by Netflix, reveals more of the exploits of Frank Underwood, Democratic Party vice president and chief conspirator.

The Blacklist and White Collar: Once again, excusing the inexcusable

By Christine Schofelt, 17 January 2014

With varying levels of style and blood-thirstiness, two more US television series seek to excuse the ongoing attacks on constitutional rights.

Homeland, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: US television increasingly jettisons democratic rights

By Christine Schofelt, 8 November 2013

Television programming in the US is currently and disturbingly dominated by the presence of series featuring the police, intelligence and military.

TV Review

Sleepy Hollow: A mix of legends and myths punctuated by gunfire

By Christine Schofelt, 21 October 2013

The scattershot approach of the writers in an effort to cover as many bases as possible leaves Fox Television’s Sleepy Hollow a mess.

A Murderous Decision: Television docudrama about German army massacre of Afghan civilians

By Verena Nees, 19 September 2013

The Kunduz massacre four years ago was a baptism by fire for Germany as it returned to the world stage as an aggressive military power.

New on US television: Arrested Development (again), Behind the Candelabra and Family Tree

By Joanne Laurier, 1 June 2013

The much anticipated new season of Arrested Development was released last week. Steven Soderbergh’s biography of Liberace also aired on HBO. Christopher Guest’s Family Tree is a new and promising series.

PBS Frontline’s “The Retirement Gamble”

By Fred Mazelis, 29 April 2013

A television broadcast examines the crisis facing American workers as pensions disappear and Social Security comes under attack.

PBS’s The Abolitionists: Remembering the political struggle against slavery

By Tom Mackaman, 31 January 2013

The Public Broadcasting System’s The Abolitionists is a reminder that the fight against slavery in the US was a hard-fought political struggle.

Andrew Marr’s History of the World: A slur against revolution

By Thomas Scripps, 19 December 2012

Media slurs against socialism are commonplace, but rarely are they as pointed and mired in historical distortions as those advanced in the recent BBC series.

CBS’s “60 Minutes” interviews Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky

By Fred Mazelis, 1 May 2012

Dr. Nora Volkow appeared on the “60 Minutes” television program to discuss not only her work as the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), but also her family background as the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky.

A return to Sri Lanka’s killing fields by Channel 4

By Barry Mason, 21 March 2012

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished shows horrific scenes of the closing days of the campaign against the LTTE and the thousands of civilians caught up in it.

Channel 4 programme highlights crisis conditions on London Underground

By Paul Bond, 15 February 2012

Confessions from the Underground on Channel 4 made for striking viewing. Actors relayed comments and thoughts documented from workers across London Underground.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

British television documents Sri Lankan war crimes

By Paul Bond, 22 June 2011

Channel 4 News has amassed mobile phone footage exposing the Sri Lankan military’s war crime against Tamil refugees.

Poor Kids: A devastating indictment of Britain’s Labour government

By Liz Smith, 18 June 2011

Poor Kids, a new documentary broadcast on the BBC, highlights the plight of some of Britain’s 3.5 million children who live in poverty.

HBO’s Too Big to Fail: Propaganda aimed at the US population

By Charles Bogle, 1 June 2011

This HBO production wastes a fine cast in its dramatization of New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book on the 2008 financial crisis.

HBO’s Mildred Pierce: A Depression-era drama aimed at a contemporary audience

By Joanne Laurier, 29 April 2011

Based on the novel by James M. Cain, director Todd Haynes’s five-part miniseries is an account of an unhealthy mother-daughter relationship in 1930s southern California.

100 years since tragic blaze killed 146 garment workers

Triangle Fire on PBS’s “American Experience”: compelling documentary marred by liberal perspective

By Charles Bogle, 12 March 2011

Triangle Fire recreates one of the truly tragic workplace disasters in US history. Producer-director Jamila Wignot offers a compelling portrayal of the inhuman conditions that led to the fire and the loss of 146 lives.

Martin Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire: a gangster series too much about gangster movies

By Charles Bogle, 3 January 2011

HBO’s Boardwalk Empire contains several superior performances, but the series suffers from numerous stereotypes and the Martin Scorsese imprint of paying homage to previous gangster movies.

The cancellation of AMC series Rubicon: Too close to home?

By James Brewer, 2 December 2010

US television series about the intelligence apparatus has been cancelled after only one season.

“Reality television”

Top Chef: Is real drama so hard to find?

By Ed Hightower, 5 November 2010

Top Chef D.C. is the seventh installment of the Top Chef reality television series, which features chefs competing for various prizes and avoiding the weekly elimination, roughly following the format of American Idol.

New US television series

Rubicon: On the other side of the secret door

By James Brewer and J. Cooper, 4 October 2010

The spy thriller Rubicon recently debuted on cable network channel AMC. It is a further sign of intelligent life on US television, although the program’s assumptions and trajectory need to be scrutinized carefully.

True Blood: “Popcorn TV” for a generation that needs so much more

By Charles Bogle, 13 September 2010

True Blood buries several good performances and southern Louisiana humor under the weight of sex, violence, and a condescending attitude toward its audience.

A somber look back: Mad Men, Season 4

By James Brookfield, 29 July 2010

AMC’s Mad Men, whose fourth season premiered on Sunday night, stands out as one of the more interesting and well-written US television series at present.

HBO’s Hung: Exploring social desperation, among other things

By James Brewer, 17 July 2010

The devastation of Detroit is the backdrop for HBO’s series Hung, which examines, semi-comically, how far people will go in the face of dire circumstances.

The Story of Us on History channel—an attempt to revive the myths of American capitalism

By William Moore and Fred Mazelis, 28 June 2010

History (the cable television channel) recently presented a 12-hour series entitled “America: The Story of Us.” The ambitious project spanned the history of the United States from the first European settlements of North America until the present day.

The Pacific offers character and emotions but little understanding

The Pacific (2010), HBO miniseries, ten episodes

By Charles Bogle, 6 May 2010

HBO has aired seven of the ten episodes of the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg production of the miniseries The Pacific, which focuses on the Pacific theater during World War II.

The Criterion Collection’s The Golden Age of Television

Not quite golden, but still valuable

By Charles Bogle, 2 March 2010

The Criterion Collection has released a boxed set of eight teleplays from the “golden age of American television” in the 1950s. The dramas (and comedies) have distinct limitations, but there are some remarkable pieces and performances.

The Twilight Saga: Shimmering vampires who drive Volvos

By Alfonso Santana, 24 June 2009

The entertainment media in the US is in the process of fattening up its new golden goose: New Moon, the next installment of The Twilight Saga series about vampires living in small-town America, set for a November 2009 release.

John Adams: A serious rendering of the American Revolution

By Charles Bogle, 8 January 2009

John Adams, first aired on HBO in early 2008 and now released on DVD, is the latest and in some ways most satisfying rendering of the American Revolution on film. The television series covers the last 56 years of Adams’ 90-year life.

Films on US television this week

By David Walsh, 24 March 1998

A weekly guide to some of the more interesting films on basic cable television networks. The vast majority of what appears on American television screens is not worth watching. The purpose of this listing is to direct attention to those televised films that possess some aesthetic and social value.