The first time I had a meal with Jeff Sagansky he gave me the order for The Trials of Rosie O’Neill. He was then the head of programming for the CBS Network and those eggs Benedict at the Beverly Hills Polo Lounge might just be the best I ever had.
I don’t remember what was on the menu at our second repast. It was a decade later at a Boca Raton eatery where, as the head of the then fledgling PAX Network, my Rosie O’Neill benefactor made me an offer I had waited all my professional life to hear… one I could not refuse which got me off the beach of my island paradise and on to a production center in Canada. The result was a tiny series in which I have some pride and that you can purchase in DVD format from yet another Jeff… Jeff Sprigg. [email protected] The show is called Twice in a Lifetime.
The third meal in this troika was just a few days ago here on Fisher Island where Sagansky and I reminisced and brought one another up to date. I mention all of this not only because Jeff Sagansky was a terrific Network executive who knew how to let creative people do what it is they presumably knew how to do… nor is it merely because he also asked me to make a quartet of Cagney & Lacey reunion movies, while simultaneously green-lighting what would become my Peabody Award winning series, Christy… but rather to share with you the tip he gave me on what he says is a terrific series to stream. Why wouldn’t I believe him? Even if the show’s title is Shtisel.
The latest incarnation of eggs Benedict was barely digested when I scrolled through the lexicon of television platforms: Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, HBO, and everywhere else I could manage a search for that oddly spelled Israeli title. It took a while but eventually I learned that Shtisel was listed at the very place where the search had begun: Netflix. Too bad. This most ubiquitous of platforms had stopped running the show as of the end of March of this year. I had missed out by one month.
It was the first time Sagansky had ever led me astray. I am counting on some sleuth out there to let me know if a revival of the series finds another platform. Netflix aside, I am sure the show is worthy… if only because Jeff Sagansky said so.
In the midst of all this, the hype on my Google machine came forward with the statement that The Diplomat, starring Keri Russell, is being compared to The West Wing and Veep.
Not by anyone I know.
The reality is that this very decent Netflix drama series is sort of the grown-up version of Madam Secretary. Not a bad thing, but not on TV’s Olympus… at least, not yet.
For those who missed it, Madam Secretary was a long-lived CBS series starring Tea Leoni and Tyne Daly’s baby brother, Tim Daly. The two leads were terrific together and the proof of that is that they are still together in real life all these years later. The show, which lasted six seasons, was one of the better ones on The Eye Network… admittedly a low bar, but an accomplishment, nonetheless.
The Diplomat borrows heavily from the CBS series, but the language allowed on these premium channels, coupled with the very adult turn on the marriage between the lead characters, elevates the concept by any metric based on an index measuring sophistication.
Rufus Sewell and Ms. Russell are the couple in this drama, and both serve their writers and directors… and lest it go unsaid… the audience… well. Good performances by both, and performance it is, since Ms. Russell’s mate in real life… and her erstwhile partner in the very excellent series The Americans… is Matthew Rhys.
Mr. Rhys can currently be seen on HBO as Perry Mason where I am sure he is giving his all, but what is on the page in that series is simply not as interesting as what it is that Ms. Russell and Mr. Sewell have at their disposal.
The Perry Mason series has now completed two seasons with each season featuring a different case, all set in the City of Angels of the 1930s. It should not go without notice that the production design and look of the show are top drawer, while the casting and writing are merely above average. Season two is not all that much better than season one, which I would grade as a B minus at best. I am going to grade The Diplomat a solid B with the hope that it will get even better in its promised second season.
David E. Kelley, who thirty years ago was given his start as a showrunner by Jeff Sagansky on the CBS series Picket Fences, now has Love & Death, a new limited series off to a promising start on HBO. I enjoyed viewing the first three episodes but will withhold judgment until I have seen the entire depiction of this true story.
HBO’s Barry and Succession are both back for what will probably be their final year and they are as enjoyable as ever. So, too, is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. The creative teams behind each of these three shows have demonstrated some imagination, a willingness to be daring, and to stretch some muscles before bringing their respective hits to their conclusions. I am particularly impressed with what I have seen of this final season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and cannot recommend any current series more highly.
Also out there is a series of movies titled John Wick, starring Keanu Reeves. The first of these was released in 2014. There are now three on HBO and a fourth in whatever conventional movie theatres can be found with their doors still open. If you like endless/senseless action and gore, then this is for you. I think the Netflix movie, The Gray Man with Ryan Gosling, is better than the three Wick flicks, but it is a subjective call and not one worthy of a lot of debate. Both require the suspension of credulity and logic, not to mention the laws of physics. Still, there is no escaping a sense of fun in the viewing that seems to take one back to a time when it was the comic books that gave us something to which we could look forward. Wanna get in touch with your early pre-pubescent self? Even though they are not MARVELous, these movies on HBO and Netflix just might do that trick.
If remaining in an adult mode is more to your liking, and you are up to date on Barry, Succession, and Mrs. Maisel, do what Jeff Sagansky would do. Order up The Trials of Rosie O’Neill on Amazon Prime. I confess to some bias here, but I think you will agree with the recommendation if not the lack of humility.
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