A review of Season 1 of “Condor” (2018)

When Season 1 of “Condor” was good — and it almost always was — it was a cinema-quality spy thriller.  This was a smart, suspenseful, well made TV show that was very nearly perfect — I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.

“Condor” was adapted loosely from James Grady’s 1974 book, “Six Days of the Condor,” and its famous film adaptation the following year, “Three Days of the Condor.”  I’ve neither read the former or seen the latter, but I can tell you that this new iteration of the story is intelligently written, nicely directed and edited, and well performed by its actors.  It seems to channel the modus operandi of Tom Clancy’s books and films — showing multiple thoughtful characters plotting and acting either against or alongside one another — while the show keeps the tension high with sequences of surprise violence.  (And there is indeed some disturbing violence here, particularly when the story calls for it to be perpetrated against non-combatants.  “Condor” aired on the Audience channel on DirecTV; I suspect its content might be too much for a regular network.)

William Hurt has always been a goddam national treasure, as far as I’m concerned.  (I may be biased in my appraisal of his work, as I grew up watching him in films like  1983’s “Gorky Park” and 1988’s “The Accidental Tourist.”  I think he’s one of the best actors out there.)  Seeing his talent colliding with Bob Balaban’s on screen should make this show required viewing for anyone who enjoys spy thrillers.  (There is an extended, loaded exchange between them in a coffee shop here that is absolutely priceless.)

The whole cast is great.  I’ve never been a fan of Brendan Fraser, simply because his movies are usually too goofy for me — but he shines in “Condor,” playing against type as an awkward villain.

Leem Lubany is terrific as the story’s merciless assassin.  (See my comments above about the violence.)  The role doesn’t call for her to have much range, as her character is a somewhat stoical sociopath.  But she looks and sounds the part — combining sex appeal with an incongruous, calm, homicidal intensity.  She reminded me a lot of Mandy, Mia Kirshner’s priceless, plot-driving assassin in Fox’s “24” (2001-2014).

If “Condor” has a failing, then it lies with its saccharine protagonists.  The screenwriters seem to have gone to great lengths to paint an edgy, unpredictable, violent world full of compromised good guys and moral ambiguity.  Why, then, are its handful of young heroes so implausibly perfect?  The putative hero is “Joe,” nicely played Max Irons, who is just fine in the role.  But the writers make him so idealistic, so gentle, so smart and so kind that it just requires too much suspension of disbelief.  At one point I even wanted to see a bad guy at least punch him in the face, simply for being a goody-goody.  It makes the story feel weird, too.  (Who wants to see Jesus in a violent spy thriller?)  The few other protagonists that we see here are also too good — they feel like thinly drawn, cookie-cutter heroes and not real people.

There are some plot implausibilities, too, that I’ve seen pointed out by other reviewers.  (I have arrived at the resignation that others are simply far more perceptive about these things than I am.)  But there was nothing that affected my enjoyment of Season 1.

“Condor” is great stuff.  I recommend it.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Laverne and Shirley” (1976-1983)

Rest in Peace, Penny Marshall.

This is one of only a handful of TV shows that I can remember watching as a tot in the late 1970’s.  “Laverne and Shirley” (1976-1983) was the kind of of thing I’d see in my older sisters’ room.  My Dad and older brother watched war movies, westerns and monster movies, but my two sisters preferred considerably lighter fare.  Two that they watched a lot at the time, if I recall, were this show and “Donnie & Marie” (1976-1979) — about the scariest thing you could find playing on their black-and-white TV was “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” (1977-1979). (One of my sisters had a crush on actor Shaun Cassidy; I think there was a poster of him in their room.)

I loved “Laverne and Shirley” when I was that young.  Lenny and Squiggy were my favorite highlight of any episode, even if I was sometimes confused about whether they were meant to be “good guys” or “bad guys.”  I was in kindergarten, and not altogether bright, and I thought that men who wore black leather jackets (Fonzie notwithstanding) were usually “bad guys.”  I also remember thinking that hippies and motorcyclists were the same group of “bad guys” because they disobeyed God or something … my confusion at the time resulted from some vaguely moraled born-again Christian comic books I’d happened across somewhere.

I also remember recognizing “Laverne and Shirley” as being related to another show that a lot of kids back then loved — “Happy Days” (1974-1984), of which it was a spin-off.  This might have been the first time in my life that I was aware of two live-action television properties occupying the same fictional universe; I’d already seen it happen in the movies with the various incarnations of “King Kong” and “Godzilla.”

Here’s what makes me feel old — for both “Laverne and Shirley” and “Happy Days,” I probably watched a lot of the episodes when they were first broadcast, and not just in re-runs (although “Happy Days” was also played in syndication endlessly throughout the 1980’s — it remained a fixture of daytime television).

And I only just realized writing this that Lenny was played by the priceless Michael McKean.  As an adult, I know him primarily from his brilliant turns in “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984) and “The X-Files” (1998-2018).  He’s 71 now.  Wow.

 

 

Two videos about the “Adventurer’s Inn” amusement park in Flushing, Queens

This is a place in Queens that my siblings remember, even if I don’t — the “Adventurer’s Inn” amusement park off the Whitestone Expressway on Linden Place (the College Point area).  The park had a bit of a turbulent history, and actually went by a number of names between its opening in the 1950’s and when it closed in 1978.  (Somewhat confusingly, it was once called “The Great Adventure Amusement Park,” but it had no connection with the Six Flags Great Adventure megapark that opened in 1974 in New Jersey.)

There are still plenty of people out there who remember “Adventurer’s Inn,” as evidenced by the websites you can find about it.  One that I really like is Todd Berkun’s “LI & NY Places that are no more.”

I myself had no clue.  I certainly passed the site occasionally when I lived in New York, but I had no idea it was a place my parents took us when we were kids.  Any remnants of the park have long since been razed; the College Point Multiplex now occupies the site (not far from The New York Times distribution center).

 

 

Editorial cartoon depicting Richard Nixon and the GOP, by Herblock, 1974

The macro below originated on Reddit, I think — but I can’t verify that this cartoon was published in The New Yorker.  The cartoonist, Herblock (Herbert Block), was actually a legendary cartoonist who worked for The Washington Post for most of his life.

 

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“Planet of the Apes” was a live-action television show?!

Why, yes.  Yes, it was.  It ran for a single season in 1974.

Was it any good?  No.  No, it wasn’t, judging from its pilot.  I at first typed “Planet of the Peas” in the headline you see above, and that typo was more entertaining than the actual program.

What we’ve got here is a poorly scripted, milquetoast rehash of the famous films, which (let’s be honest) were themselves high on camp and low on brains.

We have little of the charm of the movies, yet all of their cheesiness.  A spaceship is not designed to travel through time, but still helpfully features an ostentatious “chronometer.”  Our astronauts never suspect their real location until it is revealed to them — despite the fact that the apes speak modern, Americanized English.  Then our square-jawed heroes react minimally to the news that everyone they know or love is dead, along with their civilization.  Solving this central mystery is helped by an ancient, plot-convenient textbook, which thoughtfully contains pictures of both human-built machines and apes in cage.

Other flaws are more egregious.  Roddy McDowall and Booth Coleman both return as apes.  Confusingly, however, they do not reprise their film roles — they are actually different ape characters.  The humor falls flat.  (McDowall’s ape is a … nepotist?  Or something?)  And continuity with the movies is either clumsy or nonexistent.

I’d rate this short-lived program at a 3 out of 10 for three things that were neat.  One, the ape makeup and costuming is still fun.  Two, McDowall is always fun to watch and was a superb actor, even under all that makeup.  And, three, this really can scratch your nostalgia itch for popular 1970’s science fiction.  (Let’s dress up and play low-budget make-believe in the Southern California desert, shall we?)

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