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Hugh Laurie added to cast of HBO’s Veep

November 22, 2014

Approximately three years removed from his brilliant portrayal of Dr. Gregory House, the pain medication-dependent, unconventional, misanthropic medical genius, TVLine.com reports that Hugh Laurie is returning to the small screen to join the cast of Veep, the HBO political comedy series which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the country’s vice-president-turned-Commander-in-Chief. While this will be Laurie’s first scripted small screen series effort since House ended in 2012, the former Golden Globe winner hasn’t seen his workload diminish too much choosing instead to focus on his first love, music, releasing two CD’s and filming the PBS special, “Let Them Talk”, which took Laurie on at trip to New Orleans to explore the roots of blues and jazz music, and “Live on the Queen Mary”, which also aired on PBS.
Hugh Laurie plays the blues in New Orleans

While his Veep role remains somewhat secretive (now that Dreyfus is POTUS, could he possibly become the new ‘Veep’?), Laurie has already begun filming in Baltimore for the upcoming fourth season which will premiere in 2015. The coming year is already shaping up to be a busy year for Laurie who will also star alongside fellow English actor, Tom Hiddleston (Thor, I Saw the Light), in the upcoming BBC adaptation of the John le Carre novel, The Night Manager, which will also broadcast on AMC network in America.

Season four of Veep is set to air in 2015 on HBO. I could vote for a Louis-Dreyfus/Laurie next election, how about you?

Downton Abbey’s Lily James goes from Lady Rose to Cinderella

November 21, 2014

If you’re Lily James, it’s a long, long way from her accustomed upstairs Lady Rose lifestyle in Downton Abbey to her newest poor servant girl covered in ashes ‘downstairs’ lifestyle in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. Ok, there was that one time she did wear that downstairs maid outfit in series four when she met up with a servant class gardener who took a fancy to her after protecting her on the dance floor, but that was only for a brief moment in one episode and she quickly reverted back to the Lady Rose lifestyle.
Downton Abbey's Lily James as Cinderella

Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming feature seems to be a pretty by-the-book, faithful take on the story of Cinderella. The Branagh-directed film follows the fortunes of young Ella (Lily James) whose merchant father remarries following the death of her mother. Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) into the family home. But, when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Sophie McShera is no stranger to the upstairs/downstairs lifestyle as you might recognize her as Daisy on Downton Abbey. Actually, after seeing pics from Cinderella, you might not recognize her. Well, you know the story from here…

Ella is relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella. Despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.” From those words, Ella’s take is “where there is kindness there is goodness, and where there is goodness there is magic”.

Good thing Ella is determined to not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her as timing is everything as she soon meets a dashing stranger in the woods (a.k.a. Prince Charming). Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit (Game of Thrones‘s Richard Madden). Unfortunately, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand, and a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham Carter) steps forward and, armed with a pumpkin and a few mice, changes Cinderella’s life forever.

Branagh’s version, which closely follows the 1950 Disney animated film, also stars Hayley Atwell, Sir Derek Jacobi and Stellan Skarsgard and is set to hit the UK cinema on 27 March 2015. No word yet on a release date in America.

Idris Elba wants more ‘Luther’ on both sides of the pond

November 20, 2014

While one of the darkest, grittiest series on telly decides just how it will return in the future, Deadline.com is reporting that Idris Elba, who starred as DCI John Luther in the original British version, has signed on as an Executive Producer for a possible American re-make on Fox.
Idris Elba as DCI John Luther

More importantly, regarding the future of the hit BBC One series, Elba told Radio Times that he is quite keen on more Luther at some point in the not-too-distant future although nothing is quite ready for filming to begin just yet. For Luther to return, however, Elba does not want a full fourth series of the crime drama but would be more inclined to pursue a single episode comeback. “I am desperately trying to make that happen,” Elba said. There’s a story idea but no script yet. But we’re gunning to do it at the end of this year. There’s a lot of pressure from everyone to make it, so we’re gonna do it. I put my heart and soul into it,” revealed Elba. “I love John Luther. I played John at a very dark time in my life. And I so love John because I get to exorcise; it’s so cathartic, it’s therapy.” A perfect example of Elba’s heart and soul efforts…

Of less importance in my book, regarding the American remake, which is to be co-executive produced by Luther creator, Neil Cross, and Elba, the original British series has received a pilot commitment from Fox which ultimately means it may or may not ever come to a television set near you in yours or anyone else’s lifetime. All one has to do is point to the likes of Gracepoint, the Fox re-make of Broadchurch to see how other attempts to ‘Americanize’ brilliant British drama haven’t quite gone the way network executives would like. Hopefully, with Luther, Elba won’t try to perfect an American accent and cast himself in the lead role. To be fair, CBS’ Elementary is pretty good, although it will never be Sherlock. With Elba’s help and the involvement of Cross, let’s hold out hope but, unfortunately, the track record isn’t on their side.

Harry Pearce returns to the grid in ‘Spooks: The Greater Good’

November 19, 2014

Television is a funny piece of furniture. There are times when a series comes to an end and you know it’s time for it to go before it passes its sell-by date. Sadly, there are times, more often than not, that you think a series should come to an end yet it continues for several more seasons. There are those magical times, however, where you endlessly wish a series would go on forever but instead it comes to an all-ends-nicely-tied-up ending. The last scenario, for me, would define my thoughts on Spooks or MI-5 as it was titled in America, which went out on a perfect note in 2011.

While Spooks came to an all to early end after 10 brilliant series on BBC1 in the UK and a number of public television stations in the States, there is a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel with the announcement that the forthcoming feature film, Spooks: The Greater Good, will be released in UK theatres on 8 May 2015 from Pinewood Pictures. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington will lead the cast of the movie, with Spooks veteran Peter Firth reprising his role as Harry Pearce, head of the Counter-Terrorism department, a.k.a. Section D, of MI5.
Spooks The Greater Good confirmed for UK release on 8 May 2015

Unfortunately, as one would expect from anything that has to do with Her Majesty’s Security Service, not much is known about the storyline so far other than it focuses on Pearce being forced to resign after high-profile terrorist Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel) escapes from MI5 custody during a routine handover. When Pearce disappears off a bridge into the Thames, former agent Will Holloway (Harington) is drafted in from Moscow to foil a bomb thread from Qasim and uncover the truth surrounding the disappearance of his former mentor.
Game of Thrones star, Kit Harington, leads cast of Spooks The Greater Good

While most of Harry’s direct reports didn’t survive their time at MI-5 (i.e. Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage, David Oyelowo, Hermione Norris and Miranda Raison to name a few), one can definitely hold out hope that Matthew Macfadyen will reprise his role as Tom Quinn with maybe even a return of Keeley Hawes as Zoe Reynolds. She did, after all, only have to go to Chile to avoid prison time. Unfortunately, no release date set as of yet for theaters in the U.S. so let’s hope it finds a welcome home on public television stations soon.

Goodnight, Teddington: Iconic British comedy studio set for demolition

November 18, 2014

In the ‘let’s tear things down that have a history attached to it and build something that will make a lot more money’ era that we all seem to live in, it was bound to happen, unfortunately. Following on the heels of the recent closure of BBC Television Centre, Teddington Studios, the home for years to Thames Television and where much of the magic happened during Britain’s Golden Age of comedy and drama seen by generations of television viewers, is set for demolition in the not-too-distant future. When Granville locks up for the last time during filming of Still Open All Hours, “the end of comedy history” will be upon us when the studios close forever. All you have to do is walk past the front of the building to understand its’ place in the world of Britain’s comedy history and see it covered with blue plaques commemorating the comedy legends who worked there, including comedians Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper and Only Fools And Horses writer John Sullivan. More recent generations of comedy lovers will see it as the place that Ricky Gervais filmed The Office.

The studios got their start as a film studio when stockbroker Henry Chinnery, owner of Weir House, Teddington, allowed filmmakers to use his greenhouse as a studio. Since then, Teddington Studios has had both a storied and checkered past that goes far beyond the world of British comedy. Errol Flynn began his film career as an extra at Teddington. The studios were rebuilt after a V1 flying bomb caused serious damage in July 1944, killing three staff. They were reopened in 1948 by Danny Kaye. One of Teddington’s first big variety shows was Sammy Davis Jr Meets The British in 1960 while probably the biggest night of all occurred in February 1964, fresh from a frenzied appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in America, the Beatles arrived by river for a Big Night Out show with Mike and Bernie Winters.

In 1992, following the departure of Thames, Teddington went independent and has been, most recently, run by Michael Grade’s Pinewood-Shepperton group, making shows for ITV, the BBC and Channel 4. Sadly, Pinewood’s lease ran out this year and once Granville closes Arkwright’s for the last time, it will get to know the wrecking ball up close and personal when it steps aside for a 213-flat development. Great. Just what we need….

The ultimate DIY: How to build your own Cybermen

November 17, 2014

Radio Times said it best – The Cybermen have had more upgrades than the iPhone. While the Daleks will forever go down in history as the most iconic and scariest challenge to the Doctor, the Cybermen will, undoubtedly, be the more interesting and most misunderstood. Created by Dr. Kit Pedler, the unofficial scientific advisor to Doctor Who, and Gerry Davis, former Doctor Who script editor, the Cybermen made their first appearance in William Hartnell’s final story, “The Tenth Planet”, in 1966.
The Cybermen in The Tenth Planet from 1966

The Cybermen were originally a wholly organic species of humanoids originating on Earth’s twin planet Mondas which had drifted out of the solar system rendering it both isolated and frozen given their distance from the sun. For sheer survival, they slowly began to implant more and more artificial parts into their bodies as a means of self-preservation. This led to the race becoming coldly logical, calculating and a bit zombie-like, with every emotion deleted from their minds so they could cope with their new look – hence their enigma of being both interesting and misunderstood all at the same time.

Fast forward 48 years and the latest model, a sleek Iron Man meets Transformers version, which was last seen in the Doctor Who series 8 finale, “Death in Heaven”. At a Royal Television Society event on Tuesday, Millennium FX, the company that produces prosthetics and monsters for the series, premiered some behind the scenes footage which features a detailed look at how a Cyberman is made. In addition, the video highlights some other radical, retro designs for some alternate Cybermen, along with a few pointers on how to build our own Cybermen. You won’t see this on Ask This Old House, trust me.

Benedict Cumberbatch – A to Z

November 16, 2014

With an Oscar caliber performance just around the corner in which he plays Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch is more than just a household name. He’s a fixture. Not only has the star of Sherlock dominated the small screen with award-winning performances in both the BBC/PBS 21st century adaptation of the world’s most famous consulting detective and as a military officer in HBO’s Parade’s End, the big screen (The Hobbit, 12 Years a Slave, War Horse, Tinker Tailor, Star Trek Into Darkness), the stage (Frankenstein) and radio where, for the 70th anniversary of Normandy landings during World War II, he read the original radio bulletins from June 1944 for BBC Radio 4, he has three films coming out between now and the end of the year. Aside from The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch can be ‘seen’ in The Penguins of Madagascar and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
The Imitation Game

As we prepare for a 2015 that will see the actor play Hamlet at London’s Barbican Theatre in the summer and then cap off the year with a new set of Sherlock episodes beginning somewhere in the neighborhood of December 2015 on BBC1 and PBS, there are rumors of the actor being linked to Marvel’s next superhero Doctor Strange and upcoming Iraq war drama The Yellow Birds, in which he’ll play a troubled sergeant in command of two young soldiers played by Will Poulter and Tye Sheridan.

If you’ve somehow missed the last four years and can’t quite put a face to the name, Benedict Cumberbatch, Digital Spy has put together a brilliant A to Z Benedict Cumberbatch primer that is pretty much the definitive guide to all-things you must know if you are going to catch up to the rest of Planet Earth before 2015. Here are a several of my personal favorites…

G is for Ghostbusters

Cumberbatch has named Ivan Reitman’s beloved ghost-com as his favorite comfort movie. If Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters comes to fruition, maybe Cumberbatch could play the male equivalent of Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett?

M is for Mr. Darcy
Benedict Cumberbatch is Mr. Darcy

Cumberbatch recently recreated Colin Firth’s iconic White Shirt In The Lake moment from Pride & Prejudice. The shot was in support of TK Maxx’s Give Up Clothes for Good campaign with Cancer Research UK, so this is basically a win-win: a very good thing that happened for a very good reason.

S is for Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch is Sherlock

Steven Spielberg has famously called Cumberbatch’s mercurial modern-day sleuth “the best on-screen Sherlock Holmes”. That will remain a controversial point, but whether you agree with Spielberg or not it’s significant that after just three episodes, Cumberbatch’s Holmes was being discussed in the same breath as Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone’s definitive takes.

Despite Cumberbatch’s seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory, he’s made it clear that he has no intention of abandoning the BBC drama for Hollywood. “I’ll keep doing it as long as Sherlock grows,” he said recently. “As long as I feel like he’s developing and there’s stuff we’re all being challenged by, and that it’s being loyal to the original stories.

Now, you’re not only ready to buy a ticket to see The Imitation Game, you’re a leg up on 2015 also! For a full Benedict Cumberbatch A-Z list, head over to Digital Spy.

Science confirms it! – ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Only Fools and Horses’ = TV perfection

November 15, 2014

Finally, there is scientific evidence that supports what we have all known for some time. Downton Abbey is TV perfection. Radio Times reports on a recent study carried out at Bournemouth University which found that the Crawleys’ aristocratic dramas are the closest we can get to televised perfection. Researchers assessed the most popular TV episodes of the last decade (as picked from a poll of 2,000 British viewers), which included the final episode of Friends, Sherlock‘s The Reichenbach Fall and the 2007 EastEnders Christmas special, to calculate a formula for the ultimate TV episode. They concluded that the perfect installment was made up of 65% drama, 12% shocks, 9% comedy, 8% action and 6% romance with the epic tear-jerker series 3 episode of Downton Abbey in which Lady Sybil died was the closest to achieving these proportions.
Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey

Is there a comedy formula for success?

How can anyone possibly determine just what the perfect formula for a classic comedy would be? What makes some Britcoms fail to make the grade and never get passed the first season, while others are timeless treasures that make us laugh year after year? Is there actually a science to all the laughter? Fortunately, there are scientists that have come up with the formula for perfect comedy.

Dr. Helen Pilcher, a British molecular neuro-biologist by day and stand-up comic by night, set out several years ago to answer all of the above in a study commissioned by UKTV Gold, the satellite channel in the UK known as the home for classic Britcoms. Pilcher and her team of research scientists analyzed almost two decades’ worth of British comedies and actually came up with a mathematical expression for success – and failure. The result?

The perfect formula for classic comedy: [(R x D + V) x F + S]/A

Only Fools and Horses is comedy perfectionPilcher explains: “Comedic value is determined by multiplying the recognizability of the main character (R) by their delusions of grandeur (D). This is added to the verbal wit of the script (V), and the total is multiplied by the amount someone falls over or suffers a physical injury (F). The difference in social status between the highest – and lowest – ranking characters (S) is added. Finally, the total is divided by the success of any scheme or stratagem in the show (A). Each term in the formula is assigned a value up to a maximum of 10 people to give an overall scientific score.

After lengthy research, the long-running classic, Only Fools and Horses was voted No. 1 with a score of 696. At No. 2, a relative newcomer to the British comedy scene at that time was The Office. Fawlty Towers came in at No. 3 with Blackadder not far behind at No. 4.

To be honest, I didn’t need science or a formula to tell me that these shows are TV perfection…

It’s “Christmas at Downton Abbey” just in time for the holidays

November 14, 2014

I know, I’m going against my better judgement and have succumbed to the unthinkable by discussing Christmas before Thanksgiving, but this is too good to pass up. As the UK has all but put a lid on the 5th series of Downton Abbey with only the Christmas episode to go, it’s now all about American audiences as they begin to plan their Downton watching parties and prepare holiday dishes with the overall goal of making Mrs. Patmore proud. That said, there is something new that you might want to think about for that special Downton Abbey fan in your household this holiday season.
Christmas at Downton Abbey

Christmas is starting early at Downton Abbey with the November 17 release of the double-album Christmas at Downton Abbey. It’s comprised of 45 holiday tunes, including seven by members of the cast. Two of the most tender numbers, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and “The First Noel,” are sung by Downton’s very own Cora, Countess of Grantham (now Lady Grantham), played by Elizabeth McGovern. McGovern has a long history with music from her days at Julliard to today and her forming the folk group, Sadie and the Hotheads in 2008 where she provides lead vocals and play acoustic guitar. “I’ve always got my guitar on the set of Downton Abbey and am rushing away to perform,” says McGovern. If you’ve heard Sadie and the Hotheads, you know this isn’t just some passing fancy with McGovern as the band has performed twice at the Isle of Wight Festival, played the Edinburgh Fringe and opened for Sting at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

On one track of Christmas at Downton Abbey, “The First Noel”, she is joined by fellow Downton Abbey cast member Julian Ovenden, a.k.a. Charles Blake, an actor who has his own musical theater background and will appear on several of the album’s tracks. McGovern isn’t the only prominent cast member with musical ability as Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley, has performed live with McGovern’s Sadie and the Hotheads band and appeared on their second album.

Just so you know, there will be a bit of competition this holiday season with respect to Downton Abbey Christmas CD’s. Don’t know about you but I’m really hoping to find this particular Downton Christmas CD under the tree come Christmas morning. What about you?