Tag Archives: billions

‘Black Mirror,’ ‘This Is Us,’ ‘Westworld’ among year’s best TV

In this era of so-called Peak TV, the tally of scripted series aired in 2016 is closing in on 500. No wonder it’s so hard to pick the best 2 percent of the crop. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t pleased to salute our 10 particular favorites.

Here’s our honor roll:

“The A Word” (Sundance).

Loving parents Alison and Paul tell themselves (and everyone else) that there’s nothing wrong with Joe, their 5-year-old son. But evidence mounts. And then the unavoidable truth: Joe is on the autism spectrum. This bittersweet six-episode drama (with a second season announced) deals with a child growing up in rural England whose striking differences from other kids ignite the question: What constitutes “normal” and what becomes of those who don’t meet that standard? A beautiful story, a terrific cast and a spectacular performance by young Max Vento, who plays Joe, makes “The A Word” a unique exploration of a family as loyal as it is in turmoil.

“Atlanta” (FX).

It takes a sure hand to craft a series that blends a pair of young musical strivers from a downtrodden urban neighborhood — while keeping the series touching, relatable and funny. In an age of TV comedy that takes refuge in either irony, absurdity, outrageousness or mawkishness, creator-star-writer Donald Glover has pulled off a minor miracle with this gritty little show that blazes its own path, strewn with setbacks yet powered by hope. A fresh take on the hip-hop world, “Atlanta” never strikes a false note.

“Billions” (Showtime).

Chuck Rhoades, the powerful and perverse U.S. Attorney, is in a cage match with hedge-fund titan Bobby Axelrod. The result is a delicious drama of two Alpha Males butting heads: Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti) wants to prosecute Axelrod for financial fraud, while the smooth, ever-calculating Axelrod (Damian Lewis) dares him to try. Adding to the spice is a third corner of this triangle: Rhoades’ wife and Axe’s trusted adviser (played by Maggie Siff) who, in confronting her divided loyalties, is as tough as either man. The result is a wealth of intrigue.

“Black Mirror” (Netflix).

Six new episodes on the Netflix site have supplemented seven hours of this nervous-making anthology previously aired by British television. The brainchild of British writer-producer-mischief-maker Charlie Brooker, this series defies clear definition other than to say (a) it deals with technology’s sly cultural inroads, (b) it packs the mind-expanding punch of a latter-day “Twilight Zone,” and (c) it reflects a certain, um, Brooker-esque brand of mordant humor. Every hour is different from the others while each, in its own way, is likely to leave you startled and disturbed. It should come with a warning: “Not To Be Missed, But Proceed with Caution.”

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS).

With her show teeing up for a second season in early 2017, the time is past to celebrate “Full Frontal” as an issues-and-comedy series hosted by (go figure!) a woman. So let’s just celebrate Samantha Bee, who, now even more than during her dozen years as a “Daily Show” correspondent, stays true to her name: nimble and armed with a satirical sting for her deserving targets. She’s a bold champion of women’s interests, which are largely overlooked in political humor. But guys are welcome, too. They might learn something and have a laugh, along with getting stung now and then.

“Making a Murderer” (Netflix).

To be technical, this 10-part docuseries landed on the Netflix site in mid-December 2015. But early buzz spiked into a roar in the new year. Filmed over a decade, it tells the riveting, true-life story of Steven Avery, who is first seen in 2003 returning home to Wisconsin’s rural Manitowoc County after 18 years’ imprisonment for sexual assault. After his exoneration, Avery was a free man for just two years. He was then arrested for another crime — this time, a grisly rape and murder. So was his teenage nephew. Are they guilty or being railroaded? It’s an arresting thriller of mini-victories and major setbacks in a halting but dogged pursuit of justice.

“The Night Of” (HBO).

This dark and irresistible murder mystery stars John Turturro as near-bottom-feeding lawyer John Stone who stumbles on a righteous case: Naz, a Pakistani-American college student implicated as the killer of an alluring young woman who, after a chance encounter with him one Friday night, brought him to her bedroom. Never mind if Naz did the crime (viewers don’t find out until the end) — the legal system is stacked against him at every turn, and through the lengthy, often dismaying process, Stone fights on his behalf. Though a scripted drama, “The Night Of” is part of a new breed of law-and-order storytelling that also spawned “Making a Murderer” as well as “O.J.: Made in America.”

“O.J.: Made in America” (ESPN).

Arriving two decades after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges for the death of his ex-wife and her friend, this five-part documentary series covers those ghastly slayings and the so-called Trial of the Century in you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet detail. But it goes even further, framing Simpson’s life and career against the racial turmoil and Civil Rights struggle from which he was largely insulated by the warm embrace of celebrity and the white mainstream. Packed with never-before-seen footage, unreported details and never-heard insights, it’s a project that might have been dismissed as a true-crime rehash. Instead, it’s not only illuminating but often jaw-dropping.

“This Is Us” (NBC).

It isn’t often that a scripted TV series can be credited with being “humanistic” ‘ at least, not a show you can sit through without grinding your teeth. And yet this gentle ensemble drama is pulling it off, and viewers are loving it. Here is that rare series that is neither aspirational nor derisive in how its characters are portrayed, but instead reflects its viewers at their most goodwilled and, well, humanistic. The intersecting sets of everyday characters are depicted by a cast including Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K. Brown in a display of middle-class diversity that serves as a welcome rebuttal to this polarized age. Come to think of it, maybe “This Is Us” shows us what to aspire to, after all.

“Westworld” (HBO).

This odyssey is simultaneously set in an imagined sci-fi future and the reimagined Old West in the form of an epic theme park where lifelike robots indulge every appetite of paying guests. What measure of depravity does this unleash in the humans who treat themselves to this dude ranch gone wild? And what measure of upheaval is triggered when the robots rebel? The series’ visuals — both its western splendor and its futuristic labs _ are spellbinding and seemingly as boundless as its thematic sprawl. Its ensemble (which includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright) populates an anything-goes getaway with aplomb and shock value: Who — or what — are the heroes here?

Groups compare cost of social programs to Big Oil giveaways

The newly released Fossil Fuel Subsidies Tradeoff Calculator at www.BigOilGiveaways.com compares the cost of government giveaways for Big Oil to the cost of social programs, including food stamps, higher education grants, health care for veterans and other government services.

Groups fighting for racial and economic justice are joining communities of faith and environmentalists to remind federal lawmakers that welfare for polluters is an unacceptable use of public money. As federal programs that feed the hungry and heal the sick struggle for funding, oil and gas companies continue to drain billions of U.S. tax dollars in the form of subsidies and other special interest giveaways.

Some examples:

• A tax credit for manufacturers that Big Oil unfairly claims is equivalent to 78,282 slots for disadvantaged children in the Head Start Program.

• Royalty-free leasing in the Gulf of Mexico is equivalent to 531,461 Pell Grants for low-income college students.

• Government research and development programs that benefit fossil fuel companies are equivalent to average annual medical care for 192,905 combat veterans.

“Leaving the social safety net in tatters and keeping Big Oil on the dole is not just a failure to prioritize. It is a failure of conscience,” said Lukas Ross, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “In the face of record inequality, crumbling infrastructure, and looming climate disruption, it is time for Congress to think hard about the government spending we need and the corporate welfare we don’t.”

“U.S. taxpayers know what the nation’s spending priorities should be — dignified jobs, resilient infrastructure, affordable health care, education without crippling debt, a clean environment,” said Janet Redman, director of the climate policy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington DC-based think tank.

“It’s an abomination that while Americans are working every day for a transition to a more sustainable, more equal and more democratic economy, members of Congress are willingly trading off our future for the short-term profits of fossil fuel executives. They should be ashamed — or better yet, fired,” she said.

“Our tax dollars should be invested in programs that lift up the American people not funneled to our country’s wealthiest corporate polluters,” added Allison Fisher, energy and climate outreach director at Public Citizen. “This calculator demonstrates the exact opportunity cost of continuing to shower Big Oil with government handouts. And those costs are less dollars being spent on education, healthcare for our veterans and other critical social programs. That needs to change.”

On the Web …

Find the calculator at BigOilGiveaways.com.

Proposed resolution would allow vote on Citizens United in Wisconsin

The recently introduced Senate Joint Resolution 68 proposes a November ballot referendum asking Wisconsin voters whether their elected leaders should support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

Citizens United is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for corporations to make unlimited contributions to campaigns and have unprecedented influence in U.S. elections. The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group described it this way: “The ruling, based on the premises that corporations have the same constitutional rights as people and that money is equivalent to speech, opened the floodgates to the corrupting influence of big money in our democracy by granting corporations the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.”

The referendum, though not binding, has the support of dozens of grassroots groups in the state.

“Poll after poll has shown that overwhelming majorities, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, all stand united in the concern that big money, wealthy donors are drowning out the voices of average Americans,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG director. “In a democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the strength of your voice or your right to representation. Senators should pass this resolution and give the people of Wisconsin a say in the future of our democracy.”

A report released by the WISPIRG Foundation and Demos entitled “Billion Dollar Democracy,” found that total spending on the 2012 election cycle topped $5.2 billion, with more than $1 billion coming from SuperPACs and similar groups. Nearly 60 percent of the total SuperPAC funding came from 159 people making contributions of at least $1 million.

Wisconsin has seen a similar trend in its elections.

Spending by candidates and interest groups in elections for state and federal offices totaled $391.9 million in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles — more than triple the $123.7 million spent in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, according to a review conducted by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. 

Since the 2010 ruling on Citizens United, 16 states and more than 500 municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the decision. In Wisconsin, 14 counties and municipalities have passed resolutions.