Campers, composers and life after ‘Mad Men’

Two new intriguing television shows.

A scene from 'Camping.' (photo credit: Courtesy)
A scene from 'Camping.'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jennifer Garner is an extremely likable and appealing actress, so it’s a surprise to see her cast against type as a woman who is bossy to the point of obnoxious in the new HBO series, Camping, which runs on YES and on YES VOD on Mondays at 11 p.m., on HOT HBO on Tuesdays at 10 p.m., and on HOT VOD and NEXT TV on Mondays.
The show focuses on the group dynamics of the camping trip of a bunch of friends, led by Garner’s character, Kathryn, a tightly wound, yuppie perfectionist, who has organized the trip to celebrate her husband’s 45th birthday.
An adaption of a British series, Camping is the work of Lena Dunham and Jennifer Konner, the creators of Girls. In some ways, the characters in Camping could be the Girls crowd a few years on, trying to have a perfect trip and failing miserably because of their fraught, neurotic relationships.
There are a lot of funny, clever lines but not a lot of characters who will make you want to stick around.
One of the most anticipated television shows ever – The Romanoffs, Matthew Weiner’s follow-up to Mad Men – just premiered its first two episodes on Amazon Prime, which unfortunately, is difficult to access in Israel.
Those who find a way to see it will find it rewarding, though. Each episode focuses on different characters who claim to be related to the Romanov dynasty, and lasts 80-90 minutes. In effect, each is a stand-alone movie.
The first episode stars Marthe Keller, an international star in the 1970s who hasn’t acted much in English in recent years, as Anushka, an imperious French woman of Russian and German descent living in a huge, gorgeous Paris apartment. She torments her nephew (Aaron Eckhart) and his scheming girlfriend, who are waiting for her to die so they can inherit it. Unexpectedly, she becomes close to Hajar, (Ines Melab), her Muslim caregiver, whom she berates mercilessly at first, and then bonds with. Anushka steals the show. She is so brilliant, witty (imagine Mad Men’s Roger Sterling in her situation) and even charming that she is no stereotypical racist, and even makes a few good points about religious extremism.
The second episode is similarly quirky. It features a couple, Michael Romanoff (Corey Stoll of House of Cards) and his wife, Shelley (Kerry Bishe from Halt and Catch Fire and Argo), who run a college prep tutoring service in Ohio. When Michael is on jury duty, he falls for a sexy fellow juror (Janet Montgomery), and insists that Shelley go alone on a cruise for Romanov descendants that they have non-refundable tickets for. On the cruise, she meets a dashing Romanov descendant, Ivan (Noah Wyle, from ER, who has gotten even handsomer), while she embraces the absurdity of the Romanov descendant conference.
While there were moments where the characters weren’t as distinctive as I would have liked, both episodes kept me riveted, which is the real test of good television. There are eight more episodes to come.
Two new Netflix movies are worth watching. Quincy is a documentary about Quincy Jones, a master musician, jazz composer and performer who branched out into pop (he produced Michael Jackson’s best albums, including Thriller) and hip-hop and has scored dozens of movies, winning 26 Grammys as well as a few Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. Born during the Depression to a schizophrenic mother, his life is a fascinating rags-to-riches story of an extraordinarily gifted artist who continues to grow and who broke all kinds of color barriers in his career, while having children with some of the world’s most glamorous actresses.
Private Life, directed by Tamara Jenkins, who made the extraordinary film, The Savages, tells the story of a New York intellectual couple (Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) and their struggles to have a child. The characters are funny and the story feels real. Private Life exemplifies the kind of high-quality movie-making that has moved to the small screen.