It used to be that to become a painter, you would apprentice with an old master for decades in order to master the tiniest, most delicate brushstrokes, subtle shades of lighting, and mathematically-based perspective tricks. That's how Vermeer and Rembrandt came to anchor the Dutch School. How the Renaissance maestros learned to imbue breathtaking realism into Biblical or mythological settings. Or you could just teach yourself to paint via an app on your smartphone.
That's the way George W. Bush learned to apply brush to canvas. In an interview with NPR's David Greene, former first lady Laura Bush talked about her husband's recent foray into the fine arts and the daring subjects he's rendered in oil and acrylics: his pets. "He was looking for a pastime," Mrs. Bush says. "He got an app on his iPad where he could draw pictures. Like, he’d draw a picture of him in bed with Barney and the cat." The fact that Barney has now died lends a poignant streak to his work.
To deepen his connection to his chosen medium and place himself in the context of politicians turned painters of yore, Bush turned to presidential historian John Lewis Gaddis, his wife says. Gaddis recommended that Bush read Winston Churchill's book Painting as a Pastime, since the legendary prime minister liked to dabble in watercolors himself back in the day when he wasn't fighting Nazis. So now, he paints for several hours a day and bombards his wife and daughters with pictures of his handiwork, even when they're on the road.
This is what can happen when you're no longer the leader of the free world.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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The funny thing about Downton Abbey is that it seems to be like every other one of PBS' British imports: a stodgy costume drama that hews closely to a formula that hasn't changed since Charles Dickens was in short pants. While that may be true, there is something magical about the drama that has captivated audiences in the UK and made it PBS' only hit in, well, decades. But can they replicate the magic again? Their certainly hoping to, and this time the Brits' eyes seem set on America. Welcome to Mr. Selfridge.
The newest bet to keep themselves off of government handouts and keep their audience sending away checks to get quality programming and an endless supply of tote bags is this Jeremy Piven drama based on an actual historical figure. Just like Downton, it is imported from ITV. Unlike the previous show, this one seems configured to take the colonies by storm. First of all it stars an America, Jeremy Piven, the sushi-sick actor who we still have to claim as our own no matter how much we want to disavow him (and all those Emmys he won for Entourage), and he's playing an America. Next, it follows the Downton formula so closely that it could be a conjoined twin. Or maybe an America cousin.
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The comparisons start off right from the beginning, with the title sequence, a plinkety, catchy and immediately recognizable theme song plays over the actors names as we see flashes of life in London in 1909. The title character is a huckster from Chicago who comes across the sea to create the greatest department store in the world. Not only do we deal with him, his family, and the high-class London set that he runs with hoping to cultivate investors and customers from the upper echelons, we also get the stories of the shop girls, clerks (which the British still pronounce with a long A), and other functionaries in the store. It's the same upstairs/downstairs effect as another show of which we've grown very fond and has a penchant for killing off its nobles. This one was written by Andrew Davies, who masterminded the critically adored and popular adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair, and House of Cards for British TV.
So, does it live up to its older brother? Well, yes and no. It only has about 7 million viewers in its home country, which is less than the 10.7 million who watched the Season 3 finale of the show and the 11.5 million people that PBS says watched Season 3 of Downton on our shores. Still even half that would be quite a feat for the little channel to pull off.
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As for the quality, it just doesn't quite have the same spark. Jeremy Piven is, well, Jeremy Piven, a nimble actor who is nearly impossible to like. As a snake oil salesman with a noble clientele, he has a bit of charm, but there is nothing behind the character. We have no motivation for why he wants to succeed or what the stakes are if he doesn't, other than the obvious. (Also knowing the real Selfridge ended up peniless on the street doesn't bode well for his character.) The female characters are more well drawn and interesting, especially accessories salesgirl Miss Towler (Aisling Loftus), ingenue and spokesmodel Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper), and sultry noblewoman Lady Mae (Katherine Kelley, who has already said she won't be back for Season 2, which ITV has already ordered). Sure the show (and the store) may be named after the man they're all chasing, but they're the ones who are shoplifting it.
Still the American aspect of the show is what is the most interesting. Here is the man who turned shopping from a drudgery into entertainment, and of course it took someone from the good old U.S. of A. to create conspicuous consumption. But is this what our countrymen want to watch necessarily? Well the ones who are already fans of PBS and costume dramas will surely be amused, but for the rest of it, the show is a bit like one of Selfridge's blustering speeches: lots of flash with little sentiment behind it.
Mr. Selfridge debuts with a two-hour episode on PBS on Sunday, March 31. Check your local listings or PBS.org.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: PBS]
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Fans of Country Strong, Crazy Heart, Friday Night Lights and I Love You Beth Cooper rejoice! Nashville is here and it's a battle of the hair for Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere. The new drama is one of the most-talked about series this season and for good reason. All the things you love about a good country singin'/beer-drinkin'/floozy-hating' show are here... and the first episode starts off with a loud glittery bang. Of course, it's been scrutinized for being nothing new, and so I'm diving deep into cliché history to rank the moments (from 1 to 10) that deserve an eye roll, and those that actually stand out. Let's get started. Shall we?
Welcome to Nashville: Big Fancy Homes
We start off with a panoramic view of Nashville's fancy green pastures and straight into the fancy-schmancy home of our beloved Tami Taylor Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton). Paintings on the walls, football on the big-screen, two little girls running around like adorable animals, kisses all around! How fun it is to set the scene of a drama -- we all know s**t's about to get cray, but for now things are nice. Really nice. Rayna's husband, Teddy Conrad (Eric Close), who we learn is a stay at home dad (for now), even takes some time to teach his kids about the family's assets. "We're a different kind of rich, called 'cash poor,'" he proudly says as they all hug and play in the narrow hallway. He is no coach Taylor (moment of silence, please). Not at all.
Rating: 5, because family life of a country star is quirky, Rayna doing her own hair in her room(?!?), lessons about money.
Bright Lights, Shiny Clothes
Connie hits the stage decked in so much glitter she looks like a Powerpuff Girl. Her voluptuous wavy locks bounce to the beat of her catchy tune as she gives a soft nod to her band leader, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten). Bingo. We've got a new man one minute in and he seems like the perfect smoldering hunk for our dear Rayna. "Thank y'all!" she hollers to the crowd, and we fade to black.
Rating: 9, because sparkles, potential lover, a blessing on stage.
Backstage, a doll-like creature who goes by Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) comes running over to her uncle Deacon with her boyfriend Avery (Jonathan Jackson), and she genuinely praises the show and the goodness that is Rayna Jaymes. We quickly find out Scarlett works at the Bluebird, the town's honky-tonk, and that she's not a songwriter (she just writes poetry, okay). Scarlett is all doe-eyed and dying for a shot! But she can't, because she's scared. She only writes poetry! It's not her time… yet.
Rating: 7.5, because innocent young girl who doesn't know the force of her talent, clueless boyfriend, Deacon connection.
The Competition: A Pretty Young Sassy Thing
We're introduced to Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the twentysomething country hit who's bound to take Rayna's hair by storm. She's trouble, all right. More trouble than Leighton Meester in Country Strong, that's for sure. All glittered up and popping out, Juliette makes some demands concerning testing her new fragrance and spirals into total diva mode when a phone call comes through from her mother. She's asked to introduce herself to Rayna and to "be nice" but this sassy-act wouldn't dare do such a thing. Juliette doesn't know how to fake it, apparently, which could be detrimental in the country world. "I'm always nice," she shoots back, puffing up her hair-sprayed bird's nest. Walking over to Rayna's dressing room, she sees Deacon and must, JUST MUST introduce herself by giving him intoxicating come-hither eyes. And he's hooked. Lord help us. She's on a mission to show everyone she's not to be messed with, and she makes that very clear to Rayna when she says her mom used to listen to her music before she was even born. Burn.
Rating: 10, because a PYT with an attitude with a mission to seduce and take on a legend.
Trouble for Rayna
It has come to the country Queen's attention that she may not still be, in fact, the Queen. Her new tour isn't selling half as well as her last one and her music isn't grabbing the attention of enough younger things. According to her managers, she is left with the option of collaborating with Juliette on a joint tour of sorts, or shutting down her current one. The words "co-headline" has her in a furry, and she really goes mental when she finds out she wouldn't just be combining acts with Juliette, she would be opening for her! Blasphemy! Will she sell her soul to the minx or stand her ground as a class act? Welp, she has a few days to decide. The suspense, it's killing us all!
Rayna confides in her husband about this mess and he thinks the whole thing would be GRAND. Go ahead, lie about liking Juliette, he insists, "You've lied about much worse!" He apologizes for letting the family down, not sure what that's about yet, but says if worse comes to worse they can always borrow money from her dad. Now, this really gets her goat. Rayna would rather wait tables than be like her sister. Hell, she'd sell her damn soul on the street! They're clearly on different pages, but ultimately she says she's just going to have to figure something else out. With that, she runs to her producer Randy's (Burgess Jenkins) house and asks if there's a way to get her a new hit song. There, she bashes the young Juliette, only little does she know the vixen is wrapped in silk sheets like an oil painting on his bed, hearing every scorn-laced word. "It sounds like feral cats to me! Why do people keep pretending she's good," a fiery Rayna shouts. Game on.
Rating: 7, because the career problem, husband's unsupportive nature, family resentment, sex.
Nashville has a wealthy, powerful local politician who seems to rule everyone and, of course, that man is Rayna's father, Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe). Rayna comes running into an event that's proclaiming "Lamar Wyatt Day." (No, that is not a joke. Her dad is such a big deal, apparently, that there is no other way to convey this except for giving him his very own day!) Her sister Tandy (Judith Hoag) sits by his side, clearly the more-loved daughter. Ah, the family drama is a-brewin'.
Later, Lamar has a manipulative sit-down dinner with Teddy, where he suggests he run for mayor. What a fabulous idea! Teddy has no political background — according to Rayna he doesn't even like politics! — but it's a way for him to get back in the spotlight and take control of his family. Teddy is totally drinking the Kool-Aid his opposite-of-cash-poor father-in-law is feeding him. Lamar says something about destiny and fate and makes passive aggressive digs at Teddy's submissive father/husband current status. Just days later Teddy makes the announcement he'll be running, with Rayna next to him smiling widely at the crowd.
Rating: 6, because controlling father, easily convinced husband, supportive wife.
Every good country tale has its bar. You know, the one bar that exists in all the land, where everyone comes to drink and sing and stir drama and find love. For Nashville that bar is the Bluebird. And no surprise here, Deacon finds time to sing some of his sweet tunes on the mic amidst touring and being all famous and everything. His niece Scarlett waits tables and Oh! Wait! There's Juliette! She may have a No. 1 hit song, but she can also casually sit back and listen to her biggest crush (apparently) strum the guitar like she's got nothing else on the agenda. (By the way, Juliette cries REAL TEARS while watching him play so we know she's not actually Satan.) After his mini-performance, Deacon finds Juliette standing up against his car, working her seduction magic. She asks him with heavily glossed lips to record a song with her, batting her brown eyes and assuring they could have "a lot of fun on the road." It's safe to assume she means sex.
Rating: 10, because the bar provides exactly what it always does: a thickening plot line and the best music.
The One That Got Away
Here we have it, people. It's become crystal clear that Deacon and Rayna used to have something. Who am I kidding, we all know they still have something and it's about to get sticky, but for now we'll just have to live with a bit of the backstory. The two walk slowly and intensely over a bridge, rambling about their hopes, dreams, failures, the whole deal. Deacon tells Rayna that Juliette gave him a job where he'll get to write, and when her asks her why she never played more of his songs. Rayna replies by saying she was worried they were all about her. DING DING DING! Of course they're all about you, silly! He loves you! Country love! As if she needs more assurance, he confirms, "They are." Plain and simple. He seals his forlorn fate by saying he lost the one thing that could make him happy a long time ago. Oh this love runs deep, deep within his stubbled cheeks and distressed flannel. Rating: 9, because the love that could have been and maybe, just maybe, still might be. Family Secrets
It wouldn't be a country show without some more family drama. We already know that Rayna and her dad aren't exactly pals, but this is about Juliette. Juliette and her strung-out druggie mom. Yep! The reason her mom keeps calling is for more cash money to support her drug habit. This is a sad turn of events. Juliette perches in a storage closet or something and cries and cries about her sad momma. Just then Randy appears as if from nowhere and that's enough to turn Juliette on. Randy is all like, HELL YEAH! as she quickly conceals her tears by thrusting her tongue in his mouth. Just when we were starting to feel sorry for the girl. Oh well, baby steps. Rating: 5.5, because showing the young star acting her age, using sex as a manipulative tactic. Game-Changer
Rayna has her meeting with the label and they resurface the ultimatum. She almost begs, going through her resume and allegiance to the record company, but to no avail. And that's simply not good enough for the queen. After 21 years, she stands up, swings her strawberry blonde strands and sways out of the office. Sorry, fellas. WILL RAYNA FAIL? IS SHE DONE? Nope, we find out she is not. Because this episode has enough story lines for 45 Country Strongs. Back at the Bluebird, Scarlett's new local kind-hearted guy friend, who also just so happens to be a wonderful musician, insists they sing her poems on stage. Something they apparently practiced, for hours, because they are damn good. Of course, Scarlett has never sang on a mic. She sings like no one could possibly be watching, because Juliette wasn't just hanging out there or anything, and OF COURSE old-man legendary producer guy Watty White (J.D. Souther) is creepily sitting at the very back of the bar. And he hears something he likes. Oh he likes it, all right. He hears dollar bills and sold-out concerts. He quickly gets Rayna on speakerphone because she can so clearly hear every note that way. It looks like Scarlett's going to have to get over her stage fright because it seems she'll be joining the big leagues very very soon. OH, and I almost forgot, Juliette and Deacon are about to do IT. YES. Ugh, so very disappointed in him. Rating: 9.5, because the sweetest voice is always heard from the underdog and there's always always someone listening. Thoughts on the premiere? Was it everything you dreamed it would be? Will you keep watching? Sound off in the comments below. [Image Credit: Katherine Bomboy-Thorton/ABC/KATHERINE BOMBOY-THORNTON] Follow Anna on Twitter @thebrandedgirl More: Meet 'Nashville,' Y'all: Country's Strong With Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere TCA 2012: 'Nashville' Stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere Talk Music (City) ABC Debuts Trailers for 'Nashville' and More -- VIDEO
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A series that features renowned painter William Alexander displaying his artistic talents as he completes one painting per 30-minute broadcast, striving to teach the art of oil painting in the process.