Saturday, March 18, 2023

Alaska Daily and The Company You Keep Prove Network TV Is Not Dead


Scott D. Parker

Remember a few weeks ago when I lamented the end of New Amsterdam and wondered if there would be any more network TV shows I’d watch? Well, it didn’t take long before two very different shows landing on my viewing schedule.

Alaska Daily

Curious about the throughline of the series—the disappearance and murder of indigenous women in Alaska—the wife and I watched the pilot of Alaska Daily, the new show starring Hilary Swank. She plays Eileen Fitzgerald, a famous New York investigative reporter in New York who gets fired for asking too many questions. Amid her public humiliation, her old boss, Stanley (Jeff Perry) shows up. He has a job for her: investigating the systemic crisis of murdered and missing indigenous women in Alaska. The sticking point is, obviously, that the new job is in Alaska. Stanley knows Eileen and all he has to do is get her hooked on the story.

She gets hooked and she moves to Alaska where we promptly have a fish-out-of-water story mixed with a this-is-how-we-do-it-in-the-big-city story. But it works well.

The indigenous women story is the season-long arc and little pieces are uncovered in each episode. But you also get a story of the week. In each episode, you’ll see some of Eileen’s fellow reporters either get rubbed the wrong way because of her or learn something from her that they can then use. It’s a good push-pull dynamic.

Two things particularly stand out. One is obvious: the importance of journalism, especially local journalism. In episode 7, Eileen has a long conversation with another character who thinks all she does is twist facts around. She counters the argument by pointing out things that reporters have contributed to society. It’s a general “If not us, who?” argument that I find matches the tone of 2023.

The other aspect of this show I really dig is Eileen herself. She’s single-minded in her devotion to her job, so much so that she sacrifices personal relationships. She’s a loner, and her lover is being a reporter and uncovering the story. We’ve seen characters like this before, but they’ve almost all be male. With Eileen, you get the female version of it, and it’s refreshing.

I find it fascinating that the topic of violence against indigenous women is featured not only on this American network TV show but also on Amazon’s Three Pines. Perhaps with more exposure, more can be done to stop this crisis.

The Company You Keep

On the other end of the ledger is another new show, The Company You Keep. We saw the trailer while watching America’s Funniest Videos one Sunday evening and were intrigued. I didn’t watch This Is Us but I knew the Milo Ventimiglia starred on it. Milo’s also in this show opposite Catherine Haena Kim. He’s a con man named Charlie from a family of con artists: mom, dad, and older sister. She’s a CIA operative named Emma, daughter of a retired senator whose brother is running for his dad’s seat, and no one in the family knows she works for the government.

In the pilot, Charlie’s family earn $10 million from a job but Charlie’s fiancée steals it. Emma discovers her partner is having an affair. Charlie and Emma meet at a hotel bar and a weekend of passion ensues. But they are both secret about their real selves and real jobs. Naturally, they fall for each other but still keep up the mysterious fronts. Cut to the end of the pilot where the bad guys who used to own that $10 million show up at Charlie’s family bar. They demand repayment plus interest, and you have this show’s schtick: A Con of the Week.

And it’s so much fun. It doesn’t hurt at all to have Milo and Catherine look so dang good and look good together. As the credits rolled from the pilot, I said to my wife, “Ah, so it’s pretty people doing cons every week. I’m in.”

The supporting cast is fun, especially William Fichtner as Charlie’s dad. He’s good in just about everything he’s in, but a particular favorite is his role in the 1999 movie, Go. James Saito plays Emma’s dad, an actor who has been in a ton of things, but I particularly enjoyed him in the old Eli Stone TV show.

If you are a fan of heist stories, you’ll probably get a kick out of this.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Short stories for podcasts

Over at Writers Who Kill, KM Rockwood discusses writing stories for podcasts.

Short stories have long been some of my favorites, both reading and writing them, and I’ve added listening to them to the menu.

I’ve also been trying my hand at writing for podcast distribution.

Podcasts have much in common with audio versions of books, and owe much to that earlier invitation to “return to those thrilling days of yesteryear” on pre-TV radio.

But I’m learning that the stories written for podcast do present some unique challenges.


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Wild Canaries

I recently saw the film Black Bear (2020), with Aubrey Plaza, and really liked it. Set in upstate New York, broken into two contrasting parts, it plays as a sort of cross between Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and a John Cassavetes movie, in particular Opening Night, a psychological mind screwer with a great and multi-layered performance from Plaza.  The writer-director is Lawrence Michael Levine, and since I'd liked Black Bear so much, I decided to watch his previous film, from 2014, called Wild Canaries.

This one hearkens back to the classic tradition of screwball mystery, with a married Brooklyn couple, often bickering, neither a cop or a professional detective, investigating the death of an elderly lady who lived in the same building that they do. The woman lived in the building's last rent-controlled apartment, and when her grown son starts acting oddly after her death, delivering an off-key eulogy at her funeral and selling off her possessions quickly as though he is in dire financial straits, the wife in the couple, Barri (Sophia Takal), begins to suspect that the son (Kevin Corrigan) killed his mother.  Perhaps Barri's enthusiasm is fueled by her love of Hitchcock movies, but eventually, the son's behavior makes even the husband, Noah (Levine), suspicious.  They begin poking around in the son's life, aided by their gay roommate Jean (Ali Shawkat) who has a thing for Barri.  Barri and Noah have been having their own difficulties, but the investigation they launch themselves into involves them in something that distracts them from their problems and might, just might, help their relationship.  

Wild Canaries has an obvious love for The Thin Man movies and one can't help but think as well of Manhattan Murder Mystery.  The pace is fast, the dialogue rapid-fire, and the investigative shenanigans amusing.  It's difficult to balance a genuine mystery with a marital comedy, but this one does it well, all the while capturing in a wry way early 2010s hipster world Brooklyn, with its aspiring and sometimes pretentious artists, rent worries, cramped apartments, and constant financial anxiety.  It's completely different in tone and style than Black Bear, and the chemistry between Levine and Takal, who are married in real life (and she also is a filmmaker, having directed the psychological thriller Always Shine as well as the Black Christmas remake) is excellent. For its 98 minutes running time, Wild Canaries is quite diverting, something perfect if you too love a certain film tradition and want to laugh.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

How to Promote an Event, in Fine Cactus Fashion


I'll be in Tucson later this week for Left Coast Crime 2023, a convention for mystery fans and authors. It's always a wonderful time, and this year I get to start early. On Wednesday night, the local Sisters in Crime chapter is helping coordinate Noir. Noir is an event that happens in fine drinking establishments nationwide, where authors read brief excerpts from their books. It's a home-grown thing, with people organizing them in conjunction with other events or for no reason at all, other than to have a good time. 

Word about Wednesday's event has hit in all the right places. Organizer Patrick Whitehurst has provided multiple graphics for people to use on their social media, and gotten the event into the local alt weekly newspaper

Note how the graphics give good placement to the brewing company that's hosting the event. It's truly an example where everybody wins. So if you're going to Left Coast Crime this week, stop by and subject yourself to some great crime.