Is Sherlock Holmes back? Well, it depends on how we define “back.” Does it mean these stories are required reading in honors courses? Or does it mean new novels and short stories by wannabe Arthur Conan Doyles who imagine they can match the master? Or is it the TV series, like “Elementary” on CBS and “Sherlock” on Masterpiece, that modernizes the dark, foggy streets and mansions of 19th-century London, replaces the mumbling, servile comrade Dr. Watson with a tough-minded girlfriend and...
“I am a contradiction,” says Pope Pius XIII, born Lenny Belardo—the first American pope. HBO’s sleek, provocative new series The Young Pope suggests paradox is part and parcel of Catholicism. Fictional and real pontiffs resist our attempts to classify and simplify them.
Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, and starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton, “The Young Pope” is visually arresting, and occasionally surreal. Dream sequences are stretched to their limit. In the first episode,...
On New Year’s Day, Sherlock began its much anticipated fourth season after a three-year hiatus. (A one-off special episode aired a year ago to ensure that its rabid fans would not lose any of their rabidity in the meantime.) The show, a joint production of the BBC and PBS, airing both in the United States and the United Kingdom, has become a global phenomenon. It has found an especially devoted audience among that most sought after of demographic groups—millennials—as evidenced in the...
December 19-26, 2016
When “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted on Dec. 9, 1965, CBS executives were so sure it would fail they informed its executive producer, Lee Mendelson, they were showing it only because they had already announced it in TV Guide. “Maybe it’s better suited to the comic page,” they told him after an advance showing.
Despite six months working on the show, the animation director, Bill Melendez, felt much the same. “By...
November 7, 2016
I recently asked Ally, my 9-year-old niece, and Patrick, my 7-year-old nephew, what they thought heaven might be like. Ally had some very specific (and strangely board game–centric) views: “It’s a candy land, and I’ll have a gingerbread house and I’ll have a pet gingerbread dog and I’ll be in a world of fantasy and I’ll be an angel and I can fly everywhere and I can see everyone that I love there.” (God, just to be clear, this is not a request.) Patrick was more...
October 31, 2016
At first glance “Easy” and “High Maintenance” might look boring. Neither television show has an overarching plotline, and both have a taste for the ordinary. “Easy,” available on Netflix, holds patient focus on quotidian drama: a couple buys Halloween costumes to buoy up their marriage, two brothers bicker about their fledgling business, a washed-up author gratefully accepts attention from a graduate student.
October 17, 2016
The first thing the viewer sees is a brawl on a college football field in rural Mississippi. Fists fly and cleats stomp as more and more players, in red jerseys and white ones, join the fray. The ugly footage is from a late-season game for East Mississippi Community College, the best junior college football program in the country, and it was captured for television as part of the outstanding Netflix documentary series Last Chance U. E.M.C.C. is the place where talented but academically...
September 19, 2016
A Polish television crew is interviewing the head of a Warsaw elementary school, who boasts that yes, his children get free milk each day at recess.
But the milk is bad, the interviewer tells him: The students pour it down the toilet.
“Oh no,” he says. “We always lock the restrooms at recess.”
Krzysztof Kieslowski was hardly a comedian, but there was always a vein of black wit running through the late Polish filmmaker’s work, which included the acclaimed “Three Colors...
May 23-30, 2016
Recently in Los Angeles unusual billboards have popped up all over town. “To my loved one in Scientology,” they read, “Call me.”
The work of two former Scientologists, these advertisements push back against the intense pressure Scientology, which is headquartered in Hollywood, puts on its members to permanently dissociate themselves from family members and friends who are not fully supportive of the organization. As much as recent documentaries, tell-all books and gossip columnists...
February 15, 2016
It is nearly impossible to watch Making a Murderer and believe in God at the same time. The viewing experience of this Netflix series perhaps was best summed up by Robert Browning nearly 200 years ago when he wrote, “And yet, God has not said a word.” If temporary atheism is too precise a descriptor of the affective wake the viewer is left to tread after viewing the series, then temporary agnosticism might do just as well. Agnosticism is the order of the day...