While summer is generally regarded as the time for poor TV scheduling, filled with reruns and shlock summer stock, I must say that there are some highly watchable programs on the current roster, both old and new. The programs I have been watching are on HOT , but some of them may be aired on YES as well.
For starters, I have been enjoying several excellent documentaries on Channel 8. For example, the nature series Life is superb. A BBC production narrated by the inimitable David Attenborough, it is a 10-part series that reveals the strategies and extreme behavior that living creatures around the globe have developed in order to survive. Honing in on the fascinating lifestyles of creatures, many of which I have never heard of, let alone seen, the series opens up a whole new world of wildlife, one episode at a time, such as “Amphibians,” “Mammals,” “Fish” and “Birds.” Stunning photography, beautiful music, exotic locales and insightful narration make this series a sheer delight. The only downside for me are some graphic scenes of creatures attacking and devouring their prey. But that’s... life.
Exposing a highly competitive world on a different level is the series Face to Face. Here, the stories of world-famous arch rivals are explained and explored. Thus far, I have seen the episodes about cosmetic queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden; fashion designers Yves St. Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld; and opera divas Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. With vintage footage of the legendary icons, as well as intriguing interviews and informative narration, the series sheds light on how these titans changed the face of their particular fields.
And speaking of faces, The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women is a stellar BBC documentary about pioneer fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969). A German Jew who went to New York and turned taking pictures into an art, Blumenfeld is regarded as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. The film details his life story through narration, interviews with fashion insiders and family members, and a wide range of his extraordinary photographs.
Best known for his covers of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as his portraits of such celebrities as Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, Blumenfeld was so avant-garde that his work looks avant-garde to this day.
On another positive note, the documentary Happy explores the nature of happiness.
From the dalai lama to children with Down syndrome, the film takes us around the world and shows us how cultures and individuals cultivate and experience happiness. It is a real eye-opener in terms of what (how little, in fact) it takes to make a person feel happy inside and out. This documentary alone is enough to make you feel good.
In that cheerful vein, there are a few comedies that I am enjoying. The test of a good show is if you can watch it over and over and still get a kick out of it. Well, Seinfeld is back on Hot Plus, and it’s good to see Jerry and the gang again, hear the snappy dialogue and watch the comedic characters in action.
Similarly, I still enjoy getting together with old Friends on HOT Comedy Central. I know it has been said by many a critic, but I really cannot get over how talented Jennifer Aniston is on this show, and yet has chosen to appear in such dreadful so-called comedy films.
What is genuinely funny, however, is The Office. The original Office. Back on BBC Entertainment, the British comedy series written, directed by and starring Ricky Gervais is great to see again. The American version with Steve Carrell did not hold a candle to this show, in which the office manager Gervais portrays is so patently obnoxious that he’s downright hilarious.
Another entertaining sitcom is Anger Management on HOT Comedy Central, which stars Charlie Sheen as Charlie Goodson, an anger management therapist. The show is well written, well acted and often takes potshots at Sheen himself as an inveterate “bad boy.” Another plus is that his father on the show is played by award-winning actor Martin Sheen, his real-life father.
For me, a good drama is one that includes some comedy as well. In that regard, there are several detective series currently airing that fill the bill. These shows contain a continuing story about the main character and a captivating ensemble cast, as well as a criminal case to solve in each episode. At the top of the list is the multiple Emmy-winning series Monk on HOT Zone, starring Tony Shalhoub as the OCD, germaphobic but brilliant detective Adrian Monk.
On the same channel, Bones and The Closer are excellent as well, with clever dialogue, an engaging cast of characters and compelling plot lines.
NCIS is another winner on HOT Zone. Voted America’s favorite TV show, the Naval Crime Investigative Service series based in Washington, DC, stars Mark Harmon as the monosyllabic Supervisory Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. As a touch that local audiences can enjoy, one of the members of his team is an attractive young former Mossad officer named Ziva David, played by Chilean-born actress Cote de Pablo. In one episode, she and fellow agent DiNozzo are sent to Arizona to check out a lead.
When DiNozzo complains about the intense heat, she says, “This is winter in Israel.”
The new kid on the CSI block is CSI: Cyber, starring Patricia Arquette as FBI Special Agent Avery Ryan. The goal on this Crime Scene Investigation show is to solve crimes that start on the Internet and play out in the real world. So far, two episodes have been aired on HOT Zone, and they were good.
At the other end of the television time line, CBS Drama has dredged MacGyver out of the archives. It’s a hoot to see a young Richard Dean Anderson with long hair, portraying the resourceful special agent Angus MacGyver. In fact, his resourcefulness became so popular that a word was coined to describe it. “To Mac- Gyver” means to assemble or repair something by ingenious improvisation, using everyday items that would not usually be used for that purpose.
In the realm of competitions, new seasons have begun for some of my favorite shows.
On Channel 3, Project Runway is back with Season 11. Hosted by former supermodel Heidi Klum, the show features aspiring designers vying to make their mark in the fashion world. This season, in addition to Klum, the two main judges are designer Zac Posen and fashion critic Nina Garcia, with a celebrity guest on each episode.
On Channel 2, Master Chef and The X Factor are back in action, with the same panels of judges as before. On Master Chef, Chaim Cohen, Jonathan Roshfeld, Eyal Shani and Michal Ansky are tasting their way toward selecting a new crew of culinary contestants.
Meanwhile, on The X Factor, local talent are singing their hearts out in the auditions, hoping to receive thumbs up from Moshe Peretz, Rami Fortis, Shiri Maimon and Ivri Lider.
Besides the inherent nature of the competitions themselves, what I particularly like about the two Israeli programs is the warmth and compassion that the judges show toward the contestants.
Similar programs on American television don’t have the sense of camaraderie that we have in Israel. How could they? The judges and the participants are all strangers to each other, whereas here we are all intrinsically connected – audience included. On The X Factor, a contestant walked out on stage. When asked where he was from, he answered “Sderot,” and the entire stadium erupted in mass applause.
Where else would you see that? Only in Israel.