Lisa Kudrow, The Former Friends Star, Reinvented Twice

Screen shot 2015-04-23 at 2.56.43 PM
Share Button

“You can’t be in this business if you see reality too completely,” says Lisa Kudrow, who first appeared on Friends in 1994 when half-hour sitcoms filmed on sound stages dominated networks, audiences built rituals around their weekly shows, and the idea of reality TV as we know it might as well have been sci-fi. The world came to know her as the lovably eccentric Phoebe Buffay, a character whose unique self-expression and thrifty sartorial choices embodied the term “quirky” before it became a hazard to our lexicon. The show ran for a decade, making Kudrow not only a household name, but also an archetype. In 2004, when Kudrow bid a teary-eyed goodbye to Phoebe, she knew her next endeavor would require her to do more than just act. “I thought, I better get used to the idea that I’m an actual producer and not just be someone with a vanity deal,” she says. “You get the deal because you were on a show, but then you actually have to do the work.”

That work paid off when HBO gave Kudrow and Sex and the City show runner Michael Patrick King the green light to make The Comeback, a comedy-drama series about the entertainment industry that Kudrow starred in, co-wrote, and produced. With Kudrow and King in charge, people expected it to be “Phoebe in Manolos,” but the series was far from it. The Comeback was an acerbic meta-commentary on the budding reality boom. To the dismay of many, HBO declined a second season.

By 2008 she was making Web Therapy with Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos, and despite her early reservations about the Web series format, the show was one of the first of its kind to garner massive exposure, eventually getting picked up by Showtime. “If you’re going to do something on the Internet, you have to fly right into the storm, and it needs to be about the Internet,” Kudrow says of the series, in which she plays an online therapist. All the action plays out over Skype.

Her Web series turned Showtime hit was still going strong when, nearly ten years after the first season, HBO came back and offered Kudrow and King the chance to create a second season of The Comeback, this time with a built-in cult following. Picking up as Valerie attempts to make a pilot presentation for Bravo mastermind Andy Cohen, season two becomes a show about a show about a show, or as Kudrow describes it, “meta, meta, meta.”

She admits that she broke down while watching the final episode. “I was crying for ten years’ worth of this woman. Oh thank God, she’s actually a person, I thought to myself. This is who she’s always been all along, underneath.”

Fans will be happy to hear that Kudrow and King are talking about ideas for a third season. Although she is no longer an ingénue or an out-there risk-taker, she’s established herself as a comedic institution — a visionary who can dictate the direction of the television landscape.

Read our extended interview with Kudrow HERE.

Thomas Dekker: Fearlessly Disappears into Characters

thomasdecker_blackbook
Share Button

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson. Thomas wears t-shirt and jeans by Levi’s, vintage leather jacket. Styled by Rachel Pincus.

In February, Thomas Dekker was working social media for his new Fox series Backstrom and noticed that William Shatner had posted about the show. Never one to bite his tongue, Dekker shot back at the Star Trek icon, “I wonder if he remembers we worked together when I was six?” Shatner didn’t (though he did remember Dekker from another show, and replied with a thumbs-up emoji). Shatner probably isn’t alone in his hazy recall of Capt. Picard’s son on Stark Trek: Generations. Few remember Dekker as the creepy blond-haired son in John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned. Or for the fairly significant parts he had as a child on Seinfeld, ER, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, or Seventh Heaven.

Dekker had a great time as a kid, but doesn’t particularly care about being lauded for that period. “My father was a huge film aficionado and he had — it’s still in my house — a huge library of movies, three to a videocassette. My favorite when I was eight years old was Carrie. My father showed me Kubrick and Bergman when I was like nine,” says Dekker. “So there was definitely something in me from a young age that loved great cinema. But it really didn’t feel like those films were connected to my own experiences as an actor.”

“By the time he was 17, Dekker was ready to move on from acting; he filled out an application to work at Amoeba Records, put a band together, thought about directing. But instead of quitting, he switched representation, booked a huge role on what would turn out to be the mega-hit Heroes, then quit that show to play John Connor on Fox’s TV adaptation of the Terminator franchise, then landed the lead in Gregg Araki’s Kaboom in 2010.

When it was done, and I was at Cannes, at Sundance — I just felt like, My god, I am part of a universe now that I have grown up obsessed with,” says Dekker. “I still can’t believe that I was given the opportunity to be a character that weirdo kids — like I had been myself — loved and watched.”

It was a role that his agents had advised against (too sexual, too risky), but they were missing the point: For Dekker, it was a transformative experience. Suddenly he was free to go for it, to play roles in any sort of off-kilter way that seemed right. And that’s
what he did, taking on all sorts of twisted projects, like the eccentric Lance Loud on HBO’s Cinema Verite and a heroin-addicted rocker in Catherine Hardwicke’s Plush.

Which brings us around to his current gig with Fox: On Backstrom he plays the flamboyant, petty- thief roommate of the title character. It would be a pretty run-of-the-mill police procedural if it weren’t for his character, and for the fact that Backstrom is
played by the similarly eccentric Rainn Wilson. “We said the whole time that it felt like we were shooting two different shows: Backstrom and The Backstrom and Valentine Show,” says a laughing Dekker, who admits that he embellished what was originally a much smaller part when he auditioned. “I’ve never
wanted to be this guy that you recognize in every role. What’s interested me has always been how different I can be from one role to the next, how unrecognizable I can be.”

Hair: Tony Chavez
Grooming: Jo Strettell

André Holland: A Leading Man For Television’s New Wave

Andre Holland, Film, TV
Share Button

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson. André wears Rag & Bone jeans, Converse shoes, Alternative Apparel t-shirt, and his own jacket. Styled by Rachel Pincus.

As a television network, Cinemax may not be widely associated with the production of high-art programming. Yet it’s home to The Knick, the first series by director Steven Soderbergh since he announced he was leaving film for TV. On the show, actor André Holland plays Algernon Edwards, a young black surgeon who, after receiving a medical education in more liberal France, attempts to make his way at New York’s virulently racist Knickerbocker Hospital, which happens to be led by a heroin-addicted (and not un-racist) Clive Owen.

That a director like Soderbergh is bringing this kind of material to the small screen says a lot about TV’s new wave — including its ability to give actors like Holland their big break in a way that previously only the silver screen could. “The first time I met Steven was at a lunch, which was a part of my audition,” Holland says. “I was very nervous going in as I’m such a big fan.” But once he got past his nerves (and got the role) it was cinematic magic from there on out. “Steven is a fiercely intelligent guy; he doesn’t believe in making things any more complicated than they have to be. He surrounds himself with extremely talented artists and craftspeople. He really trusts actors to do their own work. He expects that actors will come in with their own ideas. He has a great way of hearing everyone’s ideas while also maintaining a strong sense of where he wants it all to go.”

The acting and cinematography on The Knick are incredible. Ultimately, though, what stands out is the story. The show doesn’t sugarcoat anything. “I loved the way the scripts didn’t shy away from racism,” says Holland. At every turn the audience is confronted with its appalling ubiquity: There’s no telling oneself that “I” would have been the “good” 19th century New Yorker. There was no such thing.

Similarly, Holland’s character is no angel. Yes, against all odds this young black man has become a doctor and is helping untold numbers. But there’s a “darkness and rage inside of him that occasionally comes out,” says Holland. “People have asked me why Algernon gets in so many fistfights. Well, I think he understands firsthand what racism and bigotry can do to a person. That rage that he has must come out in some way.”

It’s challenging material of the sort that doesn’t focus-group well, but in the hands of masterful talent, is emotionally shattering. Holland points out how germane these themes are — obviously — to current events, before being reminded of a James Baldwin quote: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Gotham: ‘Under the Knife’

gotham-150419-1
Share Button

Selena has no remorse for the murder that happened on last week’s episode. Following that shameless murder, young Bruce can’t seem to fathom that the girl who remains his fantasy would do such a thing. “What happened tonight…You tell no one.” Selena orders young Bruce. Selena and Bruce have some tumultuous grounds to cover. He’s rather distressed, but to some extent seems to realize Selena is looking out for him. When she says something like: “If I had to do it again, I would, and it wouldn’t bother me one bit,” that becomes a bit disconcerting, no?

Detective Gordon becomes frantic as he slowly begins to realize the Ogre’s murdered victims are the loved ones of anyone who’s investigated the case. Detective Gordon suggests that Dr. Leslie Thompkins, his love, get out of town—but she strongly suggests that’s the wrong idea. I mean, after all, it does suggest she can’t take on this case. Come on Gordon! Respect her. (I’m starting to believe Gordon isn’t relationship material. He treats his women like they’re never safe. Not so comforting!) 

Barbara, Gordon’s ex, is getting involved with the Ogre. The Ogre comes for Barbara, and things begin to escalate when he calls Gordon himself, which results in a press conference where Gordon furiously stares headfirst into the news camera. The funny thing is that “the Ogre” actually attends the Wayne Gala with Barbara. (He even donated $10,000!) “Once you saw the ‘real me’ you would run off just like everyone else…” Barbara warns the Ogre. Only, this time, there seems to be some vapid air of whether or not these two may team up or not? He really does seem to like her and the two were spotted at the Wayne Gala canoodling. Hmmm? That last minute of this episode featured the “pleasure room” that we’ve heard about way too much this year after America’s strike of BDSM awareness. Thanks Mr. Grey! JK! It doesn’t scare Barbara. It makes her smile. Where will this take us? 

There are two stabbings in one episode! First we have our favorite forensics expert Edward Nygma lose his cool when he’s faced off with the cop who’s involved with hurting his love interest. He stabs the man underneath the subway bridge and switches from laughter to fear faster than a bolt of lightning. After Gertrude Cobblepot (Carol Kane) becomes further concerned with her son’s current business endeavors, after an unpleasant sit-down with Don Moroni, she later questions the truth behind the nightclub business. Of course, being a mommy’s boy, he makes her tea and sends her off to bed. That’s when an unexpected visitor with a standard bouquet of roses arrives. Immediately, this becomes a flashing Don Moroni sign that translates to “BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID” for our oily-haired tweaker. Oswald loses it. He breaks the vase, grabs that glass, and, yes, slits Moroni’s poor minion’s throat.

The investigation in this episode was more intricate than the other episodes. Detective Gordon and Detective Bullock really investigated the Ogre here. Judging from what we’ve seen on Gotham, investigations are rather dull, short-lived, or even unnecessary because the story arches jump all over the place. That’s sooooo Gotham! However, this episode gave audiences a pleasant rollercoaster of investigating the suspect’s father and even a plastic surgeon that happened to transform the suspect’s face into something entirely new. (Scratched faces on framed photos were clues in the episode. That was a nice touch.) Hopefully, Gotham’s second season will play this up a bit more. I mean, we do have two detectives leading the show.

The Creators: Jill Soloway

Jillsoloway_blackbook
Share Button

Photo by Frédéric Lagrange

As the creator of the hit series Transparent, Jill Soloway has turned a father of three grown children who comes out as transgender into a pop-culture heroine. The show has won Soloway not only a devoted audience — and a Golden Globe for best series after its first season — but also something maybe even more elusive: the approval of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He sees Transparent as proof of his company’s own transition into a programing powerhouse, which is how Soloway found herself being praised by Bezos on live TV as “one of the world’s great storytellers.” Not surprisingly, Amazon has renewed Transparent for a second season.

Soloway is trying not to let success go to her headshots. She keeps hair and makeup artists at bay, even when doing morning shows, lest she end up looking, she says, “like a Realtor on a bus bench.”

Makeup is reserved for Jeffrey Tambor, who stars in Transparent as a 68-year-old transitioning from Mort to Maura. The series is loosely based on Soloway’s own parent, whom she calls Moppa — a combination of Momma and Papa. Transparent is a joy to watch, but Soloway makes clear that it isn’t just entertainment. “People have told me they’re more loving and kind and open because they’ve watched,” she says. “The show is making the world safer for my parent.”

In fact, Soloway says her goal is to tell stories about “people who have been otherized — women, gay people, trans people, people of color” — as a way of “toppling the patriarchy” (a phrase she uses earnestly but gently).

To make that happen, Soloway and her business partner, Rebecca Odes, have created their own network, wifey.tv, that they hope will be a place for the formerly ignored to tell their stories. (“It’s for the Jill Soloways of the future,” Odes says.) Soloway says she’s glad the Internet permitted her to circumvent studio executives — whom she calls “golf course males,” adding, “We got to do a side run around how you usually get stuff on the air.” But she is hardly abandoning corporate media. In addition to producing the second season of Transparent, she is executive producing a series for MTV about two feminist superheroes and is writing a memoir-slash-manifesto (she calls it a “femoir”) for Crown under the working title You Just Know.

Soloway, a Chicago native who lives in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood, is equally focused on her family, which includes a husband and two children. After all, writing Transparent was about the Soloways — doing the program, she says, is a way of “processing my own Moppa’s experiences.” And that, to Soloway, is a gift. After 15 years trying to sell pilots, she says, sounding both surprised and grateful, “The true story of our family became the story that resonated.”

Happy 420! Watch the 10 Best Episodes of High Maintenance

Rachelstill-001
Share Button

Considering today is 420, there’s no better time for HBO to announce that they’ve picked up the genius pot delivery comedy about “getting high and staying sane in New York,” High Maintenance. Previously put out on Vimeo, the show will now get a brand new six-episode season courtesy of HBO—and we couldn’t be more excited. The original web series was created by husband-and-wife team of Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld who have slowly been expanding the show and cultivating a devoted audience. When spoke to Ben and Katia last year, we noted that:

High Maintenance has the reputation that it does because it offers a decidedly alternative (read: non-judgmental) vision of life in New York City, including many people of varying class, gender and race without ever being fussy about it. It manages to avoid the cynicism of so many recent shows and movies about the five boroughs, even as it takes incisive potshots at the many life-hackers and trend-whores getting in the way of their earthy, benevolent (but never less than forthright) pot dealer, played by co-creator Ben Sinclair. The new episodes include a return appearance from Evan the asexual magician (and James Franco lookalike); a look at survivalist culture and its discontents; and a truly original love story with at least one hysterically intimate scene that could never be shown on television (or even Netflix, for that matter).

So today, in honor of the show’s new season on HBO and the perfectly fitting celebratory day, check out the best episodes of the series below and watch all of them HERE.

STEVIE

JONATHAN

BRAD PITTS

RACHEL

QUASIM

MATILDA

RUTH

grid-cell-4694-1415730661-3

Two lonely stoners find each other in this sweet and spicy Brooklyn romance. Birgit Huppuch and Chris McKinney star alongside co-creator Ben Sinclair, who plays matchmaker and weed dealer to the pair.

Watch HERE

SUFJAN

tumblr_neu2gtYuXo1qztvpwo3_400

Regan and Ezra get priced out of Williamsburg and head to a more affordable neighborhood where they learn you can’t have it all when it comes to NY real estate. Featuring Hannah Bos, Micah Sherman, Avery Monsen, and Ben Sinclair.

Watch HERE

SABRINA

tumblr_njikx7qLAn1qzspj4o4_1280

Six long-time friends escape the city and head upstate for a weekend where they spend more time worrying about their careers than enjoying themselves. (Featuring: Chris Roberti & Azhar Khan (“Dinah”), Lynne Rosenberg (“Matilda”), Steven Boyer, John Early, Tonya Glanz, Ben Sinclair & Yael Stone).

Watch HERE

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Mad Men: The Emptiness Is the Problem

Mad Men, TV
Share Button

The characters on Mad Men often reveal the most about themselves when they’re alone—but even then, they can remain a mystery to us. A particularly emotional moment in last night’s episode came when Betty Francis (née Draper) stood in her kitchen, placed her hands on the counter and stared downward at something we couldn’t see. It happened twice: both after the return of a surprise visitor from her past, and again after halfheartedly disciplining her two boys. Was it the realization of how quickly the world turns outside of her domestic comforts, or simply the burden of her ceaseless duties as a mother and a housekeeper? If there was a lesson to be learned from last night’s Mad Men, it was simply a matter of always standing your ground: be upfront and never apologize, or you’ll end up on the losing end.

SIZING PEOPLE UP AT THE OFFICE

19MADMENWEB-tmagArticle

McCann invites company executives to a retreat in the Bahamas, and Don is expected to write “the Gettysburg address” on the state of the company, which is understandably a tall order; we never see him complete the task. (A classic exchange with Peggy: “Do you have my thesaurus?” “Probably.”) Meanwhile, Don meets with Ted and Peggy individually to discuss their ambitions for the office. Ted is simply interested in bigger accounts, while Peggy wants to “create something lasting,” and to establish a role as the first woman creative director at the agency. Don nags Peggy for further details on her life plans, as if to once again ask himself, is that all there is? “This is about my job, not the meaning of life,” Peggy says. “You think those things are unrelated?” he responds.

MATHIS GETS FIRED

Mathis, the green employee, asks Don for advice about how to deal with a snubbed client. Don, essentially, tells him to never apologize and to play it cool. But Mathis takes it too literally and makes a terrible joke, throwing his career under the bus. He busts into Don’s office, proving he isn’t able to take responsibility for his own actions. “You have no character,” he says. “Neither do you—you’re just handsome.” Don swallows his pride and retorts: “Everybody has problems. Some people know how to deal with them, other people don’t. You’re fired.” Let’s see if this will have any bearing on Peggy’s trip to Paris with Mathis’ cousin, who we haven’t seen or heard from in two episodes.

JOAN’S NEW MAN

tumblr_nn3gs1RsxO1sq9xy6o3_400

Joan travels to LA with Lou Avery on business. She’s staying at the Beverly Wilshire, where Warren Beatty is making conquests. As Lou courts Hanna-Barbera for his cartoon ambitions, Joan has a coup de foudre with Richard Burgoff (Bruce Greenwood), a newly divorced real-estate developer. He buys Joan dinner and wonders aloud how she could possibly be single. After they sleep together, he demands that she cancel her flight to “get lobster in Malibu, sit on lounge chairs by the pool in Santa Barbara…” “I need to work,” Joan says.

When she returns to NYC, Richard follows her, and she reveals that she has a 4 year old son. Richard is furious and accuses her of using him as a crutch. “I know what this is, and so do you.” He’s just sent his kids off to college and doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone else. But then he visits her at the office with a bundle of flowers, telling her that he’s buying property in the city and she can visit him at will—with or without the kid. Perhaps Joan has found the perfect compromise with an older, more experienced man who can be there for her whenever she wants, without any expectations of domestic commitment.

GLEN BISHOP PAYS A VISIT

tumblr_nn3akcnyca1tqtt3wo2_500

Sally is getting ready for a cross-country bus trip with her swim team, but someone knocks at the door: Glen Bishop, their old neighbor and Betty’s former precocious young confidant. He’s now a trim young freshman at SUNY Purchase en route to Playland with a new flame. To Sally’s dismay, he reveals that he just enlisted and is heading to Vietnam. “You’re gonna die! For what?” Sally yells, and runs upstairs. Glen leaves, as proud as he’s ever been. That night, Sally calls his school to tearfully apologize, but can’t reach him.

tumblr_nn382178VR1uqjyb6o4_r1_540

The next day, after Sally leaves, Glen returns to the Francis residence to pay a visit to Betty. He sips a beer and gets close to her in the kitchen, confident as ever. “I know you’re mine,” he says, and tries to kiss her—but Betty hesitates. “This was going to be the one good thing that came out of all this,” he says. “I know you know the man I can be.” He then he reveals that he flunked out of college, and enlisted in part to hide the news from his stepdad. Betty sends him off, proud of him, but then has the previously mentioned moment alone in the kitchen. What has her life become after all these years?

DON SELLS HIS APARTMENT AND SENDS SALLY OFF

Don’s real estate agent, Melanie, comes into his apt in the morning and wakes him up. “The emptiness is a problem,” she says bluntly. “This place reeks of failure.” Don still hasn’t removed the wine stain from the floor from his tryst two episodes ago, nor has he rented any new furniture since Megan took off. “A lot of wonderful things happened here,” he says in his own defense.

tumblr_nn3fvblUar1r0ppt5o1_1280

But when he takes Sally out to a Chinese restaurant with her classmates, one of her friends flirts with him: “You have a penthouse? When I watch TV, the commercials are my favorite part…” Sally accuses Don and his ex-wife of “oozing everywhere”, as if sex appeal was always their primary phenomenological trait. “You are like your mom and me and you’re gonna find that out,” he says. “You are a very beautiful girl, but you’re more than that.” He sends her off on her cross-country trip just before he gets the news that his apartment as just been sold. He stands in the hallway, sizing up the path that defined the last half-decade of his life. If the main existential question here is “where can a man live after the Upper East Side?” (and it surely isn’t), we have three episodes left to find out.