It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week
Another slow week this week. Only Amazon served up something new, which it hid very well: new German original Beat, which hopefully should be better than You Are Wanted. I was too busy watching Homecoming to start that so unless something better comes along this week, Beat will be getting the Boxset Monday treatment next week.
That means it’s just the regulars again this week, although even that number is about to start dwindling. After the jump, then, the latest episodes of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Doctor Who, Happy Together, MagnumP.I. and Titans, as well as the returning Black Lightning. I’ll also be looking at the season finales of Pine Gap and You, as well as the series finale of The Last Ship. Will it all end well, and will there be any more promotions this week? You’ll find out in a mo…
July 14 1930 was an auspicious day for TV plays, as it marked the first time that a play was ever transmitted on TV. The BBC had been experimenting with John Logie Baird’s TV technology since 1929, running test transmissions from both Baird’s premises and their own radio headquarters at Savoy Hill. In the summer of 1930 it was decided that a drama should be produced as a new test for and demonstration of the medium.
The lucky title was Luigi Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth. Val Gielgud (yes, a relation), the production’s director, chose the play as it was only about half an hour long, had a confined setting and only had three characters: The Man (Earle Grey), The Woman (Gladys Young) and The Customer (Lionel Millard).
The production was broadcast live from a set at the Baird company’s headquarters, 133 Long Acre in London. Generally regarded as a successful experiment, it was watched by prime minister Ramsay MacDonald with his family at 10 Downing Street, where Baird had installed one of his prototype ‘televisors’ two months previously so MacDonald could view the test transmissions he and the BBC regularly broadcast.
Given it was early days for TV, don’t be too surprised to learn that it wasn’t shown in 1080p high-def or 4K Ultra. Instead, the video was a mere 30 lines – 1/36th the resolution of HD and a 1/20th the resolution of PAL. It also also wasn’t recorded, so that first ever TV play is lost to history, I’m afraid.
However, in 1967, a shorter version of the play was remade entirely in 30-lines by Bill Elliott of Granada TV in Manchester. He used student actors to play the parts and recorded the performance a stereo tape recorder: one track held the 30-line video signal; the other track held the audio. Not only did use his own home-built recreation of Baird’s televisor to act as camera and monitor for the recreation, he also brought in the play’s original producer, Lance Sieveking, to authentically reproduce and present it. Sieveking was also able to provide the original artwork used in the play and the same 78-rpm gramophone record that had provided the music in 1930.
This clip is restored from a Betamax copy of the 1967 video, filmed off-screen at 30 lines. And it’s this week’s TMINE play. Enjoy!
TV doesn’t have many auteurs – that is, people whose work you can recognise pretty instantly simply from their ‘look and feel’. Largely, that’s because TV seasons are so long and production so collaborative that one individual, even a showrunner, is unlikely to have enough control over every episode that their ‘fingerprints’ can be spotted.
Sam Esmail seems to be one of the few who can claim to be a TV auteur. The creator and frequent director of Mr Robot, he has a distinct, innovative, experimental directorial style, as well as equally distinct thematic concerns about the nature of the reality.
Or so I’ve gleaned from Homecoming, Amazon’s new original series starring Julia Roberts as psychiatrist at a medical facility helping veterans recover from PTSD, all 10 episodes of which are directed Sam Esmail. From the opening titles of the first episode to the final post-credits scene of the tenth episode, if you’ve seen Mr Robot, you’ll never be in any doubt whatsoever that you’re watching a Sam Esmail drama. And that’s a double-edged thing.
Back when I was reviewing Alex Inc, I pointed out that US firm Gimlet Media has discovered the only way to make real money from podcasts: get someone to adapt them as TV series. Gimlet seems to be getting quite good at this, since Homecoming is another adaptation of a Gimlet podcast, albeit a relatively loose one. Ironically, it’s also vastly more interesting for its visual style than for its actual storyline.
The show runs in two parallel timelines, each of which has its own aspect ratio. The first is set in a blurry, 1970s-style 1:1 aspect ratio 2022, when Roberts is working in a seaside diner as a waitress. Into her life comes DoD complaints investigator Shea Whigham (Waco, Vice Principals, Boardwalk Empire) who wants to know about an incident at a facility at which Roberts used to work involving Stephan James (Shots Fired), one of the ‘Homeland’ veterans in the facility’s care. Roberts denies everything and pleads ignorance.
Meanwhile, back in crisp, HD 16:9 2018, we get to see Roberts’ evolving relationship with James as she provides therapy to him in an effort to help him deal with what he’s seen while fighting overseas. We also get to see the increasingly angry phone relationship she has with boss Bobby Cannavale (Mr Robot, Antman, Jumanji), as it becomes clear that maybe Homecoming has a slightly different agenda to the one its participants have been told.
What isn’t Roberts telling Whigham and why is she now working as a waitress when she’s a trained social worker? More importantly, over the course of the season, what Roberts isn’t telling Whigham increasingly becomes less important than why… Spoilers after the jump.