Homeland stars Claire Danes, famous for her role in the teen drama My So Called Life, as a bipolar CIA agent that is caught in political subterfuge as she tries to suss out terrorist plots. The Showtime series has earned Danes some of the best reviews of her career.
The Americans stars Keri Russell, famous for her role in the teen drama Felicity, as a Russian spy who is embedded in the United States with her fellow spy husband and unsuspecting children. The FX series has earned Russell some of the best reviews of her career.
So, which shows uses political intrigue, espionage and its former ingénue to best effect?
Homeland is squarely in the present, with Danes' Carrie Mathison chasing down al Qaeda types and getting caught up in schemes by the U.S. government to get people into power in the Middle East who are more favorable towards Western interests.
The Americans, meanwhile, is a period piece, with the action taking place in early Reagan-era Washington D.C. The Cold War is still raging and being a Soviet spy on U.S. soil is still a huge deal… and thanks to the distance of time, the audience can now be sympathetic towards characters that were on the other side of the conflict between the super powers. They don't spend a lot of time giving a history lesson, but sometimes they'll weave in events that took place in the '80s.
Originally, Danes' character was slightly unhinged and trying to prove that recently rescued POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) was really a terrorist. By this past season, Carrie was pregnant with Brody's child and she was unable to save her baby's daddy from being publicly executed in Iran. A whole lot happened in between but it's so layered with double-crosses, double-agents, and duplicitous government types that it's not only hard to summarize, it can be hard to follow. The end of the last season had Carrie taking a position at a field office in Turkey, so presumably the show's fourth season will follow her there.
The Americans, on the other hand, is much more straightforward and subtle. The show focuses just as often on the home life of Russell's Elizabeth Jennings and her husband Phillip (Matthew Rhys), as they try to do their jobs of feeding information back to the Soviet Union, while raising their children (one of whom is suspicious of them) and trying not to draw any unwanted attention from their neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich), who works in counter-intelligence for the FBI. There are a lot of disguises and characters posing as other people — Phillip is also married to a FBI staffer as part of their mission — and the show doesn't shy away from violence when appropriate (in the second season premiere, Phillip shoots up a restaurant and another KGB spy family is murdered). What makes it fascinating, besides the various espionage angles, is watching Russell and Rhys try to sort out their feelings for each other — their marriage was mandated by the Soviets — and their children.
Advantage: The Americans.
Danes gets to play anxious and frantic a lot, which gives her plenty of showy scenes. Her Carrie is a mess most of the time. Despite being pregnant she goes on a bender and she gets prescription meds through her sister. The show started with her fresh off of a suspension for conducting an unauthorized operation in Iraq and the show plays a lot on her bipolar disorder, keeping things off-balance as to when she has good reason to be paranoid versus when she's just paranoid because that's just how she is. First she was trying to discover and thwart whatever plot Brody had been sent back to the U.S. to undertake. Then she tried to redeem and clear him, while also sleeping with him. It's almost hard to tell when Carrie's right for what she's doing — like intentionally sabotaging an operation to kill a terrorist because she thinks it's more important to capture him alive, for instance — or if she's just completely unbalanced.
Russell is all business. She leads a double life but for the most part she's completely under control. Russell is marvelous in using her facial expressions to give glimpses into Elizabeth's soul. Her character is more comfortable with the harder parts of her job, using her skills as a trained spy to get what she needs, than she is with the family that she was forced into. She wants to protect her children, but they're also just part of her cover… and she has a better handle on those feelings than she does about what she feels for her husband. They both can be sexy, but Russell's cool trumps Danes' crazy.
Advantage: The Americans.
While Homeland has the awards and has more freedom to do whatever it wants on premium cable, The Americans has quickly become the better overall show.
There’s no question that American Idol’s popularity is waning. With our television screens overrun with programs like The Voice and The X Factor, singing reality show fatigue has set in, with audiences eager to label the former ratings juggernaut the most outdated, irrelevant model. Perhaps they can blame Season 9’s shark-jumping decision to hire Ellen DeGeneres as a judge. Perhaps they can blame Idol’s unwillingness to freshen up its 11-season-old formula. (The Voice might have lesser talent, but they do have chairs that spin!) Or perhaps they can blame Idol’s attempts to eat into their lives, broadcasting the show up to three times a week. Whereas millions of fans would tune into Idol come hell, high water, or Ryan Seacrest’s high flat-ironed hair, millions have spent the past season finally checking out. And the disinterest was never more clear than during Friday’s American Idols LIVE! concert at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
In seasons past, there was an undeniable sense of excitement brimming the second you walked into the American Idols LIVE! concert. Girls, both toddlers and teens, walked the halls of the stadium plastered with images advertising their favorite idols. Some wore shirts covered in photos of industry powerhouses like Carrie Underwood, but most had an impressive dedication to forgettable faces like Michael Sarver. The bond between those latter concertgoers was strong — they were all fans who sat glued to their television sets two to three times a week, obsessively dialed their telephones 20-30 times a night, and irrationally hated three to four contestants who might outlast their favorites. They sat at home prior to the concert for what seemed like hours to craft a perfect poster with a perfect message for their perfect Idol, regardless of whether they were sitting in the first row or the nosebleeds.
But on Friday night, the mood shifted. Boardwalk Hall, which was at capacity in seasons past, appeared only half full, making you hope the stadium wouldn’t shine its lights bright enough for the Idols to notice the low turnout. Only a few fans brandished posters — for the East Coast-bred Elise Testone — and young girls chose One Direction or GAP t-shirts over Phillip Phillips attire. And then there was the concert’s curious demographic — most sections were filled with the over-60 set who looked as though they were counting down the hours until they could filter back into the casinos. Even contest winners who scored a spot directly next to the stage couldn’t drum up enough enthusiasm during the concert to stand up and cheer, or even do anything but talk to their seat neighbors. Where was Idol’s much-needed young demographic? And, more importantly, where were its fans?
It was a sad sight to behold, especially since the concert proved that Idol’s contestants, unlike the stars of The Voice, have still got it. The American Idols LIVE! tour is always interesting — it’s easy to wonder whether the season’s musicians will still impress without close-up smoldering shots to appeal to female voters or TV-friendly staging. And every season, most of the Top 10 indeed deliver. Yes, Phillip was indeed not nearly as adorable as he is on a 40-inch screen — perhaps because on Friday night, he was, as usual, sick — but he more than proved himself the worthy winner with a five-song set ending in his popular and ever-addictive “Home.” (Oh yes, you best believe that launched a sing-along.) Of course, it was clear Phillip was still beholden to the Idol machine — whereas other contestants got an opportunity to perform multiple covers we hadn’t already heard, Phillip was forced to sing mostly repeats: The jazzy remix of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the hauntingly gorgeous “Volcano,” and, oddly enough, the unnerving “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which was just as uneven and unimpressive as it was on live TV this past spring. We already listen to our favorite Phillip Phillips performances on iTunes — how refreshing would it be to hear an entirely original set? That said, audiences were also treated to a fittingly nice and slow remix of Usher’s “Nice & Slow,” which played just as well as his Top 7 performance of “U Got It Bad” on Idol.
As in seasons past, the winner might have been billed as the concert’s main attraction, but he hardly ended up becoming the main attraction. For the sake of build-up — and allowing him time to record his album off-stage — Phillip wasn’t featured at all in the first act, only appearing in the concert’s final 15 minutes. But the mere absence of the winner is always refreshing, in a way. It allows audiences’ attention to shift to some of the less appreciated contestants. And every year, there’s one unexpected break-out at the American Idols LIVE! concert. Last year, it was showman Stefano Langone (who, shortly after the tour’s wrap, scored a record deal that led to one sadly unsuccessful single). And this year, though he received the smallest amount of applause in a schmaltzy meteor-themed introduction that couldn’t collide with audience excitement, DeAndre Brackensick stood out just as much as his wildly coifed hair.
But, interestingly enough, it wasn’t DeAndre’s solo that won him such acclaim. Instead, DeAndre stood out the most while standing in the background. Serving as backup for six songs — not including group numbers — DeAndre delivered whole-hearted enthusiasm missing from many solos throughout the evening. When DeAndre snapped, he snapped. When DeAndre dipped, he dipped. And when DeAndre shook his butt (yes, that happened many times throughout the ridiculously fun Jessica Sanchez-led cover of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”), the boy shook. it. Though DeAndre seemed poised to be a member of the Top 10 who would fade into obscurity, his performance Friday set him up for a promising career as a background singer. Or, at least, a professional hairographer.
And it’s entirely possible he’ll be serving back-up for girlfriend(!) and Beyoncé mini-me Jessica. Though close-up shots of the runner-up via a stadium camera showed a hint of exhaustion in her eyes, Jessica still remained the consummate professional — and the most impressively powerful member of the Top 10. Though it was easy for Jessica to feel like a superstar during the middling Beyoncé cover “Best Thing I Never Had” — oh, the wonders of a wind machine — the singer proved her prowess during a piano- (and, of course, DeAndre-) backed cover of Prince’s “How Come U Don’t Call Me” that should have had radio stations calling for a single. How can anyone have so much soul before even passing basic calculus? (Though, that is a subject that could give you the blues.)
It was a three-song set so strong, you found yourself wondering how long you would have to wait to pre-order Jessica’s album. But the runner-up wasn’t given the opportunity to advertise any single, or even announce to audiences that she had scored a deal with Interscope earlier this summer. Colton Dixon, however, both put aside time to tell the stadium that he had signed with Christian music label Sparrow Records and performed a new single, “Never Gone.” The single — about, you guessed it, Jesus — left little doubt as to Colton’s superstar status within the Christian music industry. It was modern, radio-friendly, and pretty enough to make non-Christians wish God hadn’t hogged the contestant to him(or her)self. Especially after hearing Colton’s soaring cover of Switchfoot’s “Meant to Live,” and his predictable (but still lovely) performance of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” Whether Colton will be able to crossover into the Top 40 like Switchfoot is in God’s hands, as is his confounding ability to fit into such tight pants.
Elise offered some quality counter-programming for audiences during the concert’s first set, repeating her outstanding Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” complete with vocal runs that would impress Xtina herself. With a two-song set that included a cover of Adele’s “Rumor Has It,” the contestant proved herself to be one of the more vocally talented members of the Top 10, even if she still lacked likeability. You can respect Elise’s confidence — why shouldn’t she acknowledge that she kicks ass? But the crowd was much less willing to accept her aplomb as Joshua Ledet’s, a contestant who spent a whole minute basking in the crowd’s glory following a rousing repeat performance of Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby” and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.” Of course, like Elise, he deserved to — without judge favoritism weighing Joshua down, it’s much easier to be truly (and rightly) impressed by his passion and unrivaled pipes. Funny that it took Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson’s absence to finally understand what Steven, Jennifer, and Randy had been talking about for months.
Now, not every Idol was worthy of their title during Friday’s show. The usually fiery Skyler Laine had dimmed during performances of Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead” and Faces’ “Stay With Me,” and only seemed to heat up against Hollie Cavanagh during a duet of Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It.” Erika Van Pelt delivered a cover of Pink’s “Glitter In the Air” that shined brighter than most acts in the first act — but anything would sparkle next to an off-key, painful rendition of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” from Erika, Colton, Hollie, and Joshua. Hollie proved she is a human being that exists with wooden covers of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” and Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break.” And Heejun Han solidified himself as a human blooper reel with an excruciating performance of John Legend’s “Green Light” that included the unfortunate repeated lyric “I’m ready to go right now.” (As my mother said during the number, “Then go already!”) That said, Heejun did deliver the first boost of the evening via a spirited rap during a group performance of LMFAO’s “Party Rock.”
And even when contestants like Heejun flatline, it’s difficult not to root for them — the unbridled enthusiasm of the Top 10 makes their likely fade into irrelevancy even more depressing. Especially should the Idol machine become much less powerful — no Idol since Season 5 has proven to be an instant hit-maker like Kelly Clarkson, Underwood, and Daughtry. And though the show’s devotees always knew a moment like this would come — when the reality singing competition wouldn’t be nearly as influential as it was in its mid-2000s prime — hey, at least it’s not Duets.
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All eyes were on the Olympic Arena in Stratford, East London as the Slumdog Millionaire filmmaker presented the Isles of Wonder Opening Ceremony - and the Oscar winner did not disappoint.
The sound of the Olympic Bell signalled the official start of the London Games as the patriotic hymn Jerusalem was sung throughout the stadium. Branagh was the first celebrity to appear as he stepped up to portray Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Britain's most revered engineer, and he recited Caliban's speech from William Shakespeare's The Tempest as 965 drummers moved in for the first segment of the show, titled Pandemonium, led by deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.
The scene showed industrial workers forging five giant rings from red-hot metal and the finished products glowed as they were hoisted high into the air, coming together to form the Olympic Rings.
There was an impressive entrance from The Queen after a film showed Craig in character as 007 arriving at Buckingham Palace to pick up the royal, before heading into the skies in a helicopter. The pair then appeared to jump from the aircraft and parachute into the arena as the video clip drew to a close, while the stadium audience rose to its feet to welcome the monarch and her husband Prince Phillip, the Duke of York as they took their seats for the big show.
Harry Potter creator Rowling read out a passage from Peter Pan in a tribute to British children's literature as inflatable figures of great fantasy villains Captain Hook, Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter and the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang entered the arena. Characters dressed as beloved nanny Mary Poppins then floated in to fight off the darkness and save the day.
The epic production, which featured more than 7,500 volunteers, also saw Sir Simon Rattle conduct the London Symphony Orchestra on a rendition of Chariots of Fire as comedian Rowan Atkinson joined in on the keyboard, performing as his fumbling Mr. Bean character.
Viewers were then taken on a journey through five decades of music in a montage of Britain's greatest pop exports as the sounds of The Who's My Generation, Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, The Beatles' hit She Loves You and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody were blasted through the speakers.
Songs by David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, New Order, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Soul II Soul, Eurythmics, Blur and Amy Winehouse were also included in the soundtrack, as was Underworld's Born Slippy .NUXX, which became the theme tune to Boyle's breakthrough movie Trainspotting.
East London rapper Dizzee Rascal took centrestage to perform and the segment drew to a close with applause for British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, who created the first website in 1990.
Film footage then turned to soccer ace David Beckham at the wheel of a speedboat on the River Thames as a young athlete held the Olympic torch while they travelled to the Olympic Arena in Stratford, East London, just a stone's throw away from the soccer ace's hometown of Leytonstone.
The ceremony, which has lasted for over two hours, continues.
The Writers Guild of America West and East have announced their nominations for outstanding achievement in writing for the screen during 2010, and, well, there's nothing too surprising here. Before everyone gets pissed off that movies such as Toy Story 3, Blue Valentine, or The King's Speech aren't included, remember that there are some strict guidelines to WGA regulations. Deadline has more details about that right here.
Anyway, here's your list of nominees.
The Kids Are All Right
I Love You Phillip Morris
The Social Network
Enemies of the People
The Two Escobars
Who Is Harry Hilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)
The Hollywood actress donned a cheap copy of Middleton's sapphire blue engagement dress to portray the British royal's new fiancee, opposite Samberg as William, during a raucous sketch on Saturday's (20Nov10) episode.
The segment saw William introduce her to his grandparents, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Phillip - played by Frank Armisen and Bill Hader, respectively.
During the sketch, Middleton told the monarch, "I love your grandson very much and I'm honoured to join the Windsor family."
But the royals turned on Middleton as soon as William left the room and adopted East London Cockney accents as they quizzed the brunette beauty about her real intentions and accused her of wanting a piece of the "palace action".
Armisen, as the Queen, said, "You think you can just show up and take over and do a bit of Queening?"
But it was Hader's Prince Phillip impersonation which had Hathaway and viewers alike gaping in awe at his crass comments as he made references to William's mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales; Grace Kelly, the late Princess of Monaco; and Sarah 'Fergie' Ferguson, the controversial ex-wife of Prince Andrew.
Phillip told Hathaway's Middleton, "When it comes to being a wife, when you're out there waving to a parade, you be Princess Di, you be Princess Grace. But in the bedroom think Fergie."
Hathaway also drew laughs in a sketch about fellow actress Katie Holmes, impersonating the Batman Begins star as she was questioned about everything from her transition from TV to Hollywood, her daughter Suri's fashion sense and her thoughts on Scientology.
Let's hear it for the old guy who in this movie comes off sexier than his buff young accomplice (Dermot Mulroney). OK the old guy happens to be the gracefully aging icon Paul Newman -- as a feisty heistmeister who dodges a long prison sentence and then teams up with his equally conniving rest-home nurse (Linda Fiorentino) on a bank job gone wrong. "Where the Money Is" is breezy suspenseful and as much a love story as anything else -- if you call mentoring a new life in crime a kind of love. The mission-improbable caper is no more or less entertaining than a "Rockford Files" rerun but the film's swerving joyride takes its real thrills from the great escape that Fiorentino's Bonnie Parker makes from a dead-end life in the married lane.
Newman still hasn't lost it and as Henry Manning he doesn't miss any nuances in the edgy balance between streetwise wariness and amiable rapport with his sultry new colleague. The steam-powered Fiorentino has forged her career by making danger look casual and this is her most alluring work since "The Last Seduction" added another zero to her salary. Her chemistry with Newman a flirty twist on the idea of honor among thieves is really what makes this movie worth seeing. Mulroney is serviceable as the dim but lovable hubby a supporting role that's more foil than fully etched character.
We can all thank director Marek Kanievska for deciding not to have the May-December duo end up in the sack and leaving them simply professional cohorts. The director's admirable sense of comic timing works all the better by not letting the laughs get in the way of his leads' exploration of their characters -- although there's no denying the limits of this frothy genre. Perhaps Kanievska's greatest feat here is allowing Newman to retain his dignity in close-up.