You can't go home again. It's a maxim whose institution in our culture has spanned from Thomas Wolfe's eponymous novel to that first season episode of Battlestar Galactica, but is it a tried and true phrase to live by or a tired cliché rung up by the real estate industry? In the realm of television, many a star has attempted to revitalize past glory on the old stomping grounds, return to the network that launched his or her career in the first place. James Gandolfini, for instance, is returning to HBO (the old home of his historical series The Sopranos) with a new drama pilot titled Criminal Justice.
The Hollywood Reporter reveals that Gandolfini will headline the project, an adaptation of a BBC series that aired in 2008. The story follows the trial of a Pakistani-American murder suspect (Rizwan Ahmed) from inception to conclusion, with Gandolfini playing his second-rate defense attorney Jack Stone. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) will direct and co-write the pilot with The Wire writer Richard Price.
Although it's not unheard of for a star to find success with a second series on the network responsible for his or her renown, there are definitely motivations to branch out to other venues. Generally speaking, television actors looking for work following a hit series opt to showcase their versatility, rather than promote the idea that they can't do anything we haven't seen from them so far. Famously, the stars of Seinfeld have endured difficulty illustrating what they can do beyond the confines of what NBC's hit sitcom displayed. Both Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus sought post-Seinfeld work on NBC, to little success: Richards' detective series The Michael Richards Show only ran for eight episodes in the year 2000, while Louis-Dreyfus' sitcom Watching Ellie only made it to 16 before ratings-provoked cancellation. It should be noted that Louis-Dreyfus has found much greater success on other networks; her CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine lasted five seasons, in addition to earning the actress an Emmy — a victory that her new HBO comedy Veep might well match.
Coming off of another NBC powerhouse, Friends, actor Matthew Perry has sought work on the network twice since putting Chandler Bing to rest. In 2006, he starred in the Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which earned critical acclaim but only ran for one season. His new sitcom Go On premiered on the network this season, and has been a contributing factor in NBC's number one ratings status.
A greater certainty in star-network reunions existed in the past — at least on CBS. Responsible for hits like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Bob Newhart Show, CBS granted these series' featured actors Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Denver, and Bob Newhart followup shows The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Gilligan's Island, and Newhart — each of which were monumental success stories.
But with today's "less forgiving" television audiences, always looking for reasons to reject an actor's efforts to explore the new, the adherence to a network is riskier. The pattern suggested above is that when you see a star return to his or her network, you want to see that star doing the thing that instituted the fame. On The Michael Richards Show and Studio 60, the actors in question were too far gone from their Seinfeld and Friends characters. But Go On and the sitcoms of CBS yore reproduced the things we loved about Perry, Moore, Denver, and Newhart. The same can be said for Tony Danza, whose success on ABC's Taxi was transmitted to the network's later sitcom Who's the Boss?. If we're tuning into the same place to watch the same people, we want to see the same thing.
So how will Gandolfini fare on Criminal Justice? Is a jailhouse lawyer close enough to a mafioso to keep audiences engaged in the actor, or will people miss Tony Soprano an opt away from the new series? If viewers are willing to accept Gandolfini as anything other than Tony in the first place, the actor might have a hit on his hands. More than any pattern of which we might take note is the issue of quality. If Criminal Justice is well-written and accessible, then it could well be a hit. With the creative team of Zaillian and Price, and an actor like Gandolfini, quality is indeed promised. Now if only they could find a less generic title...
[Photo Credit: HBO]
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In 117 AD the famed Ninth Legion of the Roman army inexplicably disappeared. Through the centuries many legends pertaining to the missing squadron have unfurled. Some claim that the harsh elements of northern Britain brought them to their doom while more extraordinary stories suggest that supernatural forces laid waste to the soldiers. Writer-director Neil Marshall sought to set the record straight about the lost faction of fearless Romans with his new film Centurion but his audience receives much more mutilation than explanation.
A highly explosive cocktail of blood sweat and steel the film centers on Michael Fassbender’s Quintus Dias the stoic soldier for whom the film is titled and a captive of the savage Picts who have thwarted Roman subjugation for decades with effective guerrilla tactics. Quintus manages to escape the Picts’ village and regroup with the Ninth Legion led by the brave General Virilus (Dominic West) which happens to be on its way to finally end the devastation at the behest of a pushy Roman governor. Like every failed attempt at conquest the Roman forces are demolished. Quintus manages to survive yet again (cue eye-roll) along with a small group of battered warriors who end up on the run through treacherous terrain trying to stay a step ahead of Etain (Olga Kurylenko) a feared Pict huntress whose only joy in life comes from spilling Roman blood.
Like the movie’s breakneck production pace the story moves incredibly quickly leaving little time for the plot to be fully fleshed out (there’s not much of it anyway). The film would have benefitted from some more character development especially with the supporting cast because it is intended to be an ensemble piece but as each soldier got picked off I began to realize how insignificant most of them were to the narrative. As with all chase films though it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps you engaged and Centurion delivers in that sense.
Fans of Marshall’s previous films The Descent and Doomsday will be drawn to Centurion’s similarly sadistic depiction of violence which is in no short order. Squeamish moviegoers will likely spend at least half of the movie’s 97-minute runtime with their eyes clenched as heroes and villains hack away at heads and limbs vividly illustrating the less-than-civilized age in which the film is set. Had previous entries into the swords-and-sandals genre like Braveheart and Gladiator not shown audiences and filmmakers alike that blood and story can be successfully balanced Centurion would’ve fared better but the director’s preference of gore over plot points kept me from ever being able to take it seriously.
Marshall’s mind is like an encyclopedia of genre conventions and he puts this knowledge to good use in terms of the movie’s technical components conforming to the visual style that we’ve come to expect from this period. If it’s growth that you’re hoping for don’t expect to find much; the only sign of it that the filmmaker demonstrates is in his at-times surprisingly poetic dialogue which describes the repulsive details of war and gives its deliverer Quintus much-needed depth. Credit is also due to a handful of the actors (namely Fassbender West and Kurylenko) who braved health-hazardous conditions to get the film made and take the on-screen chaos in stride no matter how absurd it gets.