Tag: cinemax

Quarry: Pulpy action drama packs a wallop

There’s a scene during the pilot for Quarry, Cinemax’s new pulpy action anthem of a fall series, where a man and woman have a complex conversation without a single word of dialogue being exchanged. It’s all in the looks on their faces, the movement of their bodies, and the events that led up to it. It is the last scene in this haunting comic strip opening of a show from director/exeuctive producer Greg Yaitanes and creators Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller.

Yaitanes brings his Banshee magic to the story of Mac(Logan Marshall-Green), a Vietnam vet who returns home to Memphis in 1972 under the fiery implications of wrong conduct overseas. Calling Mac haunted is like calling a couple fingers of Jack Daniels strong. The man has a caged animal inside his heart rattling around as he reconnects with his wife Joni(Jodi Belfour) and tries to stay on an even keel and adjust to society, part of which doesn’t want anything to do with him.

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Fuller and Gordy do a superb job of transcribing the source material of Max Allan Collins(Road to Perdition), whose graphic novel the series is based off of, to the small screen in a way that is invigorating and puts a fresh spin on the crisis that surrounded Vietnam for Americans and their families in the 1970’s. Coming off a decade where a President and two National motivating world changing speakers were assassinated and a war that many didn’t understand took place, Quarry works off a juicy springboard to create a compelling action drama. (more…)

Cinemax’s Banshee: What happened next?

I’m not a screenwriter but I like to think I can tell a good story and have written enough partial screenplays to compose the weirdest collection of stories ever. Last Friday, Cinemax’s Banshee ended its four year run with a soulful send-off. Every story line was treated deliberately and carefully. There weren’t any real cliffhangers while a few plot threads did linger. Today is the first Friday fanshees know they will forever be without this wonderful show(until the producers decide to make that movie in 2-4 years).

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In order to provide a coping mechanism, I am going to break down what happened next along with a few possible plot threads. Why not? These folks are just resting in make believe outer space without any need to move so let me move them.

What happened after the series finale? Let’s roll on down the page.

Lucas rode out of town and decided to not meet Job in New York. While the disgruntled and exhausted super hacker settled in up East, Hood had other plans. He rode that bike back to the house that he built for Carrie/Ana and himself, or what was left of it. A few pieces of wood and burnt flesh removed and Hood is going to rebuild. The truth is unicorns may not exist but damn it, home insurance still does and Hood paid his taxes.

Instead of going back to a big city where some trace of the Ukrainian mob is waiting for him to arrive or stir trouble in(thief is a thief), Hood can basically resume what he was doing before Brock pulled him back into action(and getting punched). Only this time, instead of a spooky Proctor camping retreat, it’s the place where he told Carrie he’d take them. It’s a place where he can find peace, buy an old truck like the one he borrowed from Sugar, and drive it around.  (more…)

Why I love Cinemax’s Banshee

Tonight, Cinemax’s golden goose of a series, Banshee, is wrapping up its four season run and I’m a sad sack of shit. Tears aren’t going to be shed. I’ll need steak, whiskey, and a boxing bag. It’s more than just a great series. For me, the show has been a reexamination of why I love great television and where the future needs to go for creators and producers looking to give fans another awesome show. Banshee delivered on so many fronts that the absence of it in 2017 is going to sting like one of Ivana Milicevic’s punches as Carrie Hopewell.

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This show had it all. Violence served in a special “whatever fucking happens happens” package. Romance that dug deep. Drama that wasn’t skipped over. Sex like someone would expect on a series living on a network that made its name with porn. If you are going to fuck on Cinemax, you better make it so hot that the remote falls out of your goddamn hand. What Banshee did best was thrill the shit out of you. (more…)

At The Knick: This is all we are review

the-knick-god-has-a-rivalThis is all we are. Damaged. Hungry. In need. Constantly scrapping our elbows to get more. That was always Thack’s message and the idea of Cinemax’x The Knick. He said it in the pilot. God is undefeated. Humans are on borrowed time and unless you want to mean little to the ultimate outcome, one must seek out ways to change the world. From the beginning, that was Thack’s tormented and selfless ambition. And we followed him all the way to the end.

If you expected a happy or optimistic end for Doctor John Thackery and this show, you haven’t really been watching or have dulled your pain with a strong anesthetic. Director Steven Soderbergh, along with creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, aimed to be as ambitiously ignorant of normal television drama stipulations in telling their story of practicing medicine in the early 1900’s. Instead of adding melodrama to take away from the pain of how grisly life saving was in the beginning, they took a full swing at the coldness of it all. How mortality constantly runs into brick walls of ill fated doom. How the end is always waiting no matter how hard you rage against the darkness.

If the Season 2 finale taught us anything, it was depravity had many faces and masks.

There was the inglorious bastard of them all, Herman Barrow. Right when you thought the man would be caught by his wife and exposed, he maneuvered away and got her to stay quiet for a good life. This hour started by putting a detective hot on Barrow’s tail, thinking he caused the fire at the new Knick(he didn’t). Instead of gaining from a new build and plan, Henry Robertson surprises Barrow by telling him that there are no new plans to rebuild the hospital. A settlement was reached from the fire, the money is going back to the donors, land is being returned to its original owner and the city is going to be put in charge of the old Knick. All of this means Barrow is out of luck with bringing in new funds to pay his wife off and keep his new life going.

“Bully for you”

Seeing Barrow throw a Hail Mary towards Thack, worshiping at his feet and trying to make him think the new Knick was his cathedral, is quite humorous. Thack wants nothing to do with him. He’s smelt dirt on the guy from the beginning. He failed with the addiction experiment and just wants to move into the next breakthrough.

At wits end, Barrow loses a source of income but finds a way to pivot and stay above water. He uses his power at the club to squash the detective and gets his feeble minded girlfriend to sign documents giving him the ability to take out a loan against the apartment in her name. She thinks he is helping her, when in reality she is giving the man another vessel of cash. Even when Barrow is down, he is far from out.

“I’m angry for you.”-Edwards

Dr. Algernon Edwards is once again left broken and slowly losing sight in his eye. While one could figure Dr. Gallinger knocked the light out of his future of being a surgeon, the eye was going bad anyway. All Everett did was speed it up. Beat Edwards at his own game. Used his biggest rage, a black man trying to become a king in a white man’s world, against him. In the end, Edwards sits on a step at August’s funeral only to be comforted by his father. It is here that Algernon finally explains his inner rage. He is angry all the time because of his father. The man he looks up to the most has been a servant to the white families all these years even though he is the smartest man he knows. That set a fire in Edwards long ago. That is the chip on his shoulder that makes him rage against Gallinger, Thackery and society.

The Ballad of Tom Cleary and Harriet gets interesting. When she thinks he stole money for some stupid investment idea, he pulls out a ring and proposes. Big Cleary is in love with the one woman he can’t have. When she turns him down, he goes to the priest to confess.

In the most hurtful yet painfully romantic part of the finale, Cleary madness comes full circle. We find out via confession that he set her up in order to free her from the church. He snitched on her that night when he supposedly got too drunk and left her to get caught. It was on purpose. That way a woman he always had feelings for could be his own. He didn’t think the courts and sisters would drop the hammer that hard but in the end she was freed and he got his shot.

Out of options, Cleary is here asking the priest to help him get the woman he got locked up so he could eventually call her his own. Ladies and gents only on The Knick does depravity come with a ring and handcuffs. This would be the only true happy ending Knick fans would get. A happy Harriet sitting down for dinner with her new fiancé, who had her locked up. When she smiled, I somehow felt better about what Big Tom Cleary did.

“A circus stunt?” If it is worth saving lives, why not take a shot?” Instead of letting a doctor perform the surgery, Thack wants to do it himself and NOT be sedated. Thack may be a perpetual drug addict but he is first and foremost a life saver. Always has been. The drug addicted genius renegade. Someone who doesn’t just clock in and try to save people. He wants to discover and conquer what seemingly the human body can only begin to fight. It’s Thackery against mortality. While Bertie develops adrenaline and Gallinger rids the world of stupidity one vasectomy at a time, Thack aims big. He always has. Why would he aim lower when trying to save himself? Of course his colleagues don’t understand. They are comfortable being mortals. Thack wants to be something else.

Why? Thack is raging against the use of ether, the anesthetic he gave Abby and what may have contributed to her death. Instead of filling people with ether, Thack wants to show people you can numb them from pain without being fully put under. How? Cocaine! What else?!

Poor Cornelia. She decides to go to Cleveland with her husband and start a family. Right when she thinks the simple life lies ahead of her, she finds out that it was Henry and not her father who was in charge of the cargo ships and schedules that brought tons of sick people into the city. This took me back to episode 5, Whiplash, where Henry told his father that when there is blood in the streets, that was the time to invest.

When Cornelia confronts her brother he doesn’t play innocent for long. He says his father was driving the family into debt. Bad debt. He had to do something. He was the one that had the inspector killed. He was the one who brought those people in. He wanted the subway and not the new Knick. Last but not least, he started the fire that ended up killing his own father. There’s ice rolling through this kid’s veins. The entire season has played Henry off as a quietly hungry seemingly good person.

Evil Henry Robertson. Sometimes the monster takes off his mask in front of his own blood. Seeing him hold Cornelia at the top of the steps had to be the most chilling part of the season. Right then Lucy shows up. She is moving in with Henry, cementing her rise from innocent nurse to powerful wife of the new Rothstein in town. This whole time, Henry has been the master schemer. He could teach Barrow how it’s truly done.

Finally Thackery’s surgery is upon us. High praise to Cliff Martinez’s score, setting up the procedure like a U2 concert. The theater is full. Gallinger and Bertie washing their hands in the prep room looking at each other like they are about to let a man kill himself. Thack, full of nerves, pacing his office looking for a way to relax. Well, why not a little drug concoction to get the hands ready to operate on his own stomach.

This is Clive Owen’s finest hour. He rolls into the theater in a gown, looking like a doctor and magician rolled into one, about to make the bad bowel in his stomach disappear and for the world to realize how the impossible is possible. Right here and then, I knew he was a goner. A man’s ambition running faster than his actual talent will allow him. He tosses the gown, gets the cocaine into his spine, and cuts himself open. He actually removes one part of the bad bowel, but finds it is in worse shape than he initially thought.

As Gallinger and Bertie plead to rethink the surgery or let them step in, he refuses. He has come this far, so why let logical thinking enter his train of thought. He ends up nicking the abdominal aorta, which starts a bleed that can’t be fixed. Edwards jumps over the wall into the area to grab his legs, as Gallinger sews him up and Bertie makes a desperate sprint for adrenaline. The only one who knows the outcome is Thack himself. Losing feeling and going cold, he looks at the theater and simply says, “this is all we are,” before his head collapses. He’s gone. Fallen at the mercy of the limitations of medicine and from the strength and pull of his need to be the best.

Soderbergh’s direction is perfect throughout but the final few scenes and wrap are extremely assured. Right as Bertie plunges the needle into Thack’s chest, the scene closes and reloads. The theater is empty and ready for another surgery. The sinks are clean. Edwards sits alone in the late doctor’s office and finds Abby’s notebooks. Her work on psychology is unfinished and with Henry’s(yeah, he’s in charge and living the high life) wishes and funding, Edwards will continue Abby’s work as a final wish and nod to Thack. Since he lost the use of his eye, the doctor turns to a different kind of healing. Clinical psychology. The birth of the shrink. It was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that Lightner Witmer founded the scientific theory of clinical psychology. After two seasons of cutting and opening up bodies, the creators take a stab at the mind. What a way to end the season and possibly the series.

Cinemax hasn’t green lit a third season and I personally find it hard to fathom without Owen. A show like Game of Thrones can lose its most well known star(Sean Bean) and keep going because there are so many characters, but Owen’s Thackery was the heart valve of this operation. With premium cable shows, it has to do less with ratings and more to do wiht the creators. I doubt Soderbergh wants to come back for a third round and it won’t go on without him. In 20 hours, The Knick revolutionized what a drama series can do and where it can go with the right minds behind it and actors. It flipped the script on what to expect out of a hospital series. Sorry Chicago Med. This is the real deal. Sadly, I find it hard to believe that a third season happens with the closure several characters got.

Think about it? Thack is gone. Gallinger is going abroad to preach the need to snip snip the mentally unfortunate. Edwards is settling into a new practice but one that lacks drama. Cornelia is running away. Barrow and Henry have schemed their way into success. Cleary and Harriet are happy. Bertie has an adrenaline practice to complete. There aren’t enough loose ends to bring the gang back. The production isn’t cheap for a period piece, with the need to transform a modern city into a set that takes place over 100 years ago. Cinemax may have delayed the announcement until the finale aired and audiences saw the supposed closure.

Never say never but I think The Knick is closed. Hat tip to Soderbergh, Amiel and Begler. They did more in two seasons what some do in six. A lesser show would have seen Edwards get the best of Gallinger, Thackery would have lived and Barrow and Henry go to jail. That was never the intention. The creators intention here was producing a visceral dose of history that was convincing and realistic without smashing us over the head too often. If it will be remembered for anything, the show will go down as an innovative launch into unknown territory for drama. The spectacle it created along with the fearless approach. Bravo! Let’s go back down and watch it all again. This is the best history lesson on TV.

12 Random Questions with Banshee’s Hoon Lee

Cinemax’s hit series, Banshee, is deep into its fourth season and over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a chance to spin the random question dial with Hoon Lee, who plays the show’s most popular character in Job, the cross-dressing stylistic computer hacking criminal. Job may look like a sidekick to central protagonist Lucas Hood(Antony Starr), but he is a one man wrecking crew. He can break a man down with a wise crack,  hack his computer and dish him a kick to the face or slowly form a death stare.

Instead of engaging Lee in the usual interview where scribes and actors volley routine questions and answers at each other, I went the other direction. I asked him quick random questions. Banshee addicts and normal entertainment junkies can dig these answers.

Buffa:If you weren’t an actor, you’d be….

Hoon Lee: Unemployed.

Buffa: Which is more challenging? Theater or TV/Film?

Lee: Trick question. Completely dependent on the project and the team. Strong material and good people make for short, satisfying days. Weak material and jerks can make an 8 hour day feel like a week in detention.

Buffa: Favorite movie of all time?
Lee: Oh come on!
Buffa: If you can’t get your coffee at _____, you will go insane.
Lee: Partial to Not Just Coffee in Charlotte with a nod to upcoming Hex Coffee. In New York, I like Birch Coffee. In Pittsburgh I liked Zeke’s, Constellation and Espresso a Mano – there was a lot of good coffee in Pittsburgh.
Buffa: Better food, Charlotte or Pittsburgh?
Lee: Charlotte. Good Food on Montford is tough to beat.
Buffa: Favorite episode of Banshee(most proud or likely to watch as a fan)?
Lee: I loved The Truth About Unicorns. It took courage to put that episode out there and let the show be more than it had been. I also really enjoyed the season finale for S1 as it’s one of the few times I got to play with a lot of the rest of the cast.
Buffa: When you are drinking, you are having a ______.
Lee: cookie as well.
Buffa: Best part about playing Job?
Lee: The excitement and support of the fans. They embraced this character in a way I couldn’t have anticipated and it carried me for the entire run of the show. It could have gone a completely different way and made for a rough four seasons.
Buffa: One character on Banshee you won’t want to mess with?
Lee: Hood. Dude fights with everything he’s got.
Buffa: You are on a plane and can go anywhere. Where do you direct the pilot?
Lee: Home.
Buffa: Did you keep anything from the Banshee set? If so, what?
Lee: A few articles of clothing and the back of my set chair. First time I ever had one of those.
Buffa: Star Wars: Fanatic or “what gives”?
Lee: I almost cried when I saw the first trailer.
I’ve talked to Hoon twice now and this different kind of interview is just another reason why the Banshee cast is different from most TV show groups. Every Friday night when the show comes on, they hop on Twitter and interact with fans. I mean, really interact. They care and dedicate themselves to building a bridge between performer and viewer. It’s a real treat. Come back this winter for more random question interviews with celebs, athletes and people down the street. You never know who you may get to know tomorrow. Today, it  was Hoon Lee.
Banshee returns on Cinemax for its fourth and final season in exactly two months. January 29th. You can catch up via Max Go right now. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Banshee’s Adam Targum dishes on the show’s final season

“Season 4 is going to be the most memorable, mind blowing experience ever for Banshee fans.”

Gregory Shummon/Cinemax
Gregory Shummon/Cinemax

All good things must come to an end, especially on television. When the master team behind Cinemax’s Banshee wrapped Season 3 and began prepping Season 4 nearly one year ago, a thought started to lurk inside the group that includes creator/writer/executive producer Jonathan Tropper, director/executive producer O.C. Madsen and writer/executive producer Adam Targum. Was it time to end Banshee? When news broke last month to fans on the internet, there was a mini explosion. Why now? Well, I have some answers.

I had the chance to discuss the show, past and present, with Targum over the phone as he uncoiled in Los Angeles mere days after wrapping production on Season 4 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dan Buffa-Banshee really started something for Cinemax, sort of like a trailblazer for the cable network.

Adam Targum-It really did what it needed to do for Cinemax, putting it on the map as a scripted drama destination. That’s where television is going, away from network television. They can’t compete, because they are programmed for a broad audience. On Cinemax, we program to the audience that understands us. That’s why we are successful. We write and craft the shows that we want to see. 

Buffa-In the same way that the Wire and Sopranos did for HBO…

Targum-Yes. When Steven Soderbergh was asked why he brought The Knick to Cinemax, he said that any place that will support and put something like Banshee on the air is a place I want to work. 

Buffa-One of the things you do with the show is push the limits of normal storytelling and keeping it fresh. Does Season 4 continue that? 

Targum-I think Season 4 is going to be the best season yet! Season 3, we did our best to create the most action packed, over the top, heart pounding adventure that we possibly could. That was our goal. In the offseason, we realized we were never going to top that and there was no reason to try. In season 4, we took a different approach to the storytelling in trying to maximize these incredible characters. We found the perfect balance between action, character and story. This season is more serialized than ever with each episode fitting very snugly with the narrative. Instead of bringing these different antagonists for Lucas Hood to deal with, we wanted to used the existing characters and turn it all inward. The story lines intersect, thus making a more richer, more thought out story line. 

Buffa-Season 4 is the end. When did you and the rest of the gang know this was it.

Targum-We had a sense that this could be happening really early on. Jonathan, O.C. and I had conversations about what we could do to carry the story forward and while Jonathan was open to a season five, it was very important to him that there was an organic story line and that the characters had a real place to go. He didn’t want to rehash old story lines. We spent several months spitballing the ideas for a Season 5, and at the end of the day, we realized we had done everything we could do with these characters. It was important to honor Jonathan’s original vision in taking these characters as far as we could take them and make sure we were delivering the audience the most fitting conclusion we possibly could.

While it’s bittersweet, this is the perfect time to bring this story to an end. As Jonathan said in that great Grantland piece, there’s nothing more tragic than a show that sticks around too long. We didn’t want people to watch Season 5 and think, “Man, I’ve seen this before. This episode feels like the one from Season 2.” It’s really exciting because of the freedom it gave us in crafting the perfect finale. 

Banshee-2-550x366Buffa-A lot was left on the table at the end of Season 3. Lucas and Kai had that chat that seemed to bury the hatchet between them. People died. Job was kidnapped. What can you tell us about the jumping off point of Season 4? Is there a time jump?

Targum-The best way for me to answer that question is to tell you to watch episode 1 in January of 2016 and see where it goes. Coming out of Season 3, we did lay some significant story pipe to be addressed. We had Lucas walking away from being the sheriff, and it felt different than it did in the past. It felt like it had more finality to it. A truce between Proctor/Hood possibly. Deva’s state of mind. Carrie’s state of mind. Job’s whereabouts? It left a lot of rich opportunities for us to explore. And we address all of those dangling hanging chads when this season starts up. That doesn’t mean people will be happy with the way we address them. That’s the thing about Banshee. Everyone doesn’t like the choices that our characters make. Ultimately, the audience understands why we make them and that is because it is best for the characters. 

The other thing that is really exciting about Season 4 is that within the first five minutes of the first episode, we turn a lot of things on their head. There are surprises and big turns that the audience won’t see coming. That’s the mandate as a whole, and that’s constantly push the envelope of the show. Do things that only Banshee can do. That has to do with how we tell our story. We aren’t precious with our characters, as the first three seasons showed. We do kill characters that audiences love and that’s not to enrage our viewers. Sometimes, we need catalysts that drive our characters in different directions. As I always say to people..in real life people have sex. They kill each other. They are cruel to each other. There is incest and trucks do blow up. As much as our set pieces are heightened at times, the thing that brings it back to reality is that the characters stories are very grounded. These people are struggling with regret, lost love and that makes it relatable. 

Buffa-There has to be consequences for the characters on this show and Siobhan’s death was proof of that.

Targum-It was a very difficult decision for a number of reasons. First, we love Trieste(Kelly Dunn) and she is a very important part of the family. Also, we knew this was the final hope Lucas Hood had at salvation and a chance for love. Ultimately, we decided that Lucas Hood doesn’t deserve to have those things. As painful as it was for me to write it, watch it get shot and see it air, it wasn’t something haphazardly done. This was the best move to drive Hood forward in his narrative. The fact that fans mourned her like she was a real person is a testament to the people who work on this show, most notably Trieste, the writing team and directing team. In season 4, they will see why we made that decision and why it’s best for the show.

Buffa-Each season seems to build on the last. 

Targum-They do. I mean, we wrapped Season 3 in mid September and by the end of September, Jonathan and I were sitting in a restaurant talking about Season 4. We took time in talking about each individual character before we started plotting. We knew when we got into the writer’s room, in November, both of us knew the beginning, middle and end of each of these characters. Season 4, for all intents and purposes, could be an eight hour long movie. 

1280x720-nccBuffa-How important is Antony Starr to the production? He seems to eat, sleep and bleed Lucas Hood.

Targum-He truly is, but we have a lot of people like that on this show. There’s no question. Ant is the #1. He’s never about vanity. He doesn’t care how he looks on screen. It’s always about “what would Lucas Hood do?” Antony has incredible story instinct and in Season 4, he took a very hands on approach with us in making sure that the narrative was as tightly woven as we needed it to be. I will say though, that Ivana and Ulrich are also big parts of that process. Ulrich will not just give us notes on his scenes but on the episodes as a whole. We have a cast that really cares about the show.

There are new faces this season in Eliza Dushku, Ana Aayora, Jennifer Landon and Fred Weller. They immediately fit the bit and were committed to the project. There’s not a weak link this season. Having such versatile actors allows us to push the envelope even further. That made it especially hard to wrap up, knowing this kind of group may not come together again. 

Buffa-The move from Charlotte, North Carolina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania must of been a little rough.

Targum-It was a culture shock in a lot of different ways. In the end, we found a good balance of the old and the new. There are things that will look different, and we explain very effectively why they do. It will look like a fresh show, but also feel like Banshee. In a pragmatic sense, we had to build new sets and bring in 75% of a brand new crew. What we found was that the new Pittsburgh crew came in with a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of the crew were fans of the show and went out of their way to get hired onto the set.

I walked around on set, feeling this energy from these 200 people who were fans of the show now working to make it new. When we wrapped the show and speeches were being made, there were a lot of tears and melancholy but also a huge sense of pride in what we had made. We screened the first episode and they were blown away, saying that this was the Banshee they always wanted to make.

Buffa-For most of these actors, it’s like burying a character you’ve grown attached to. 

Targum-It’s immersive. We all live away from home for months shooting this show and there are a lot of long stressful days. I joined the series in Season 3, and Jonathan and Greg immediately gave me the opportunity to put my voice on the show. In Season 4, O.C. and I were running the day to day operations, working with Jonathan, and it helped take the show to another level. Season 4 is where Banshee matures. It feels like a more sophisticated show. And that’s a testament to everyone who works on the show. From the craft services to the #1 person on the call sheet. It’s truly magical. I wish January was tomorrow.

Buffa-It just gives me more time to tell people to watch the show.

Targum-Banshee is a word of mouth show. People walk up to me and have no idea what it is and I tell them it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on TV and they say whatever. When they come back and say, “oh my god that’s unlike anything I’ve seen on television today,” I say, now you know, so go tell a friend.

Buffa-I recently told someone they should go make friends with a neighbor they don’t like if that neighbor has Cinemax. 

Targum-(laughs)Yes. The truth of the matter is that Cinemax is very affordable. Anytime people tell they don’t have it or can’t afford it, I tell them call your cable provider because the extra 6 or 7 extra dollars is well worth it. Especially now with Cinemax putting an emphasis on scripted drama. They are becoming a top notch destination for top rate drama.

Buffa-One of the things I am most looking forward to is more of the Bunker brothers, played by Tom Pelphrey and Chris Coy. The end of Season 3 really started something there.

Targum-Yes it did. Pelphrey has brought an incredible amount of heart and humanity to Kurt Bunker, the neo Nazi, which I will say is not an easy thing to do. When we came up with characters for season 3, what an interesting notion to have a reformed hate mongering neo nazi who has given up the hate and ideology but still has the exterior signs on his body. What better place for him to come to than Banshee. Tom is unique talent, and has so much range and soul. That’s where we came up with the idea of his brother, played by Coy.

I’ve known Chris for 6 or 7 years. I cast him in a small film called Rogue River, a little horror film we shot in Oregon in -12 degree weather. Chris refused to get warm throughout the shoot because he knew the character didn’t need to get warm.  I knew he was the real deal right there. He’s a true method actor who immerses himself in the role. We really advance that story line of the two brothers in this Neo-Nazi brotherhood. We explore the backstory of these two brothers. How Kurt was recruited by the brotherhood and how he brought his brother Calvin into it later on, leaving him with tremendous guilt. We throw real conflict between these two and from beginning to end, it’s explosive.

Buffa-I can’t stop thinking about Pelphrey’s scene in the finale in the basement with Brock Lotus(Matt Servitto). That’s my favorite scene from Banshee, all time.

Targum-That scene Jonathan had written as an audition scene for Kurt Bunker. It grew and finessed so it could fit into the story line. Jonathan wrote this monologue that really embodied what we were looking for in Bunker and Pelphrey did it and was incredible. As we were moving forward in Season 3, that scene came up and it was a perfect moment for us to put it out there. During his three minute monologue in episode 305(Tribal), Tom showed such range that we decided to take that other scene and adapt it. We shot that pretty late. Tom, wrapping the belt around his hand, which was something he did on his own, blew us away in that first take with his level of emotion and intensity. Matt Servitto came over to me afterwards and said in the beginning of the scene he wasn’t acting but simply trying to calm Tom down. It was such a powerful performance. I remember watching the crew react to the scene and seeing how visceral it was, knowing it was going to be one of our best scenes. We only did 3 or 4 takes because it was so intense. 

What’s most important about that scene is the relationship being built between Bunker and Brock. It’s Brock becoming a father figure for Kurt, who never had a real father. 

Buffa-I remember telling someone these are the scenes that separate Banshee from other shows and people’s perception of the show from the outside. 

Targum-I’m happy to hear that because I will tell you, there is a lot more of those type of scenes in Season 4. It was very important to the entire team that we found more of those moments where the actors could dive deep into these characters. This season, there is a scene around 8 minutes long that is one of the most powerful scenes we have shot. It will be a show stopper in Season 4 because when you have characters opening themselves up, it gives viewers a window into who they really are that a fist fight or gun fight can’t really do. That’s a testament to the work Greg, Jonathan, David, and O.C. did in Season 1. Since then, it’s evolved. In Season 4, we found the perfect balance in putting the viewers in these characters minds. 

In the end, Jonathan, O.C. and I make television that we want to watch. That’s what separates it from the rest.

Buffa-You can tell when there’s passion and when there’s just effort.

Targum-You can. It shows. I was a fan of the show before I came on. The people who worked on the crew this season were big fans. When we handed out scripts, we had to use extra security. You don’t want to spoil the surprise. It is fun to see the fans speculate online and while 99 percent of it isn’t true, it’s always nice to know we are going to surprise the audience because they have a different expectation. 

Buffa-The last thing I wanted to ask about was Lucas and Carrie, the lost soul couple at the heart of the show. One thing on people’s minds is the idea of them coming back together in this final season. What do you have in store for them this time around?

Targum-Anything is possible.They are always going to be at the forefront of the fiber of Banshee. Their complicated relationship and past was such an intricate part of the pilot that it will always play a part in the story. They share a daughter together in Deva. We spent a lot of time servicing those two characters. They love and care about each other deeply, but the external world doesn’t care about that. We do spend quite a bit of time this season exploring their relationship and come to a definitive conclusion on what happens between them.

Buffa-Shooting Banshee has to be a roller coaster in itself. What are your best memories from making Banshee? Any definitive moments?

Targum-So many of them. The making of episode 305, Tribal, last season was the most intense experience of my career. We spent 8 or 9 days inside the Cadi shooting that episode with O.C. Madsen and a good part of our cast. There were 3,000 squibs and thousands more. We were all there, in it, and covered in debris. It was hot and muggy. No air conditioning. It was oppressive. Those hardships are up on the screen and I couldn’t have been any prouder of that episode. It has signature character moments. It’s the end of Siobhan. The moment where Brock stands up to Lucas. We made Chayton into this monster.

Season 4 was special because I got to spend so much time collaborating with O.C., who is a true visionary. He was there from day 1 and brought a different level of character to the show. Jonathan Tropper, who has become a close friend, directed an episode in Season 4. It was satisfying seeing him translate his words to the screen and make all the decisions.  It was also incredibly hard this last week. The last week of production was challenging for us. We had to say goodbye to the actors. Every time we did, the crew would gather around, and we were all so connected. It was a special moment, and on Friday night, we wrapped the final part. Lots of hugs. Tears. Throughout, it was an overwhelming sense of pride. 

It was important for us to honor the audience. When they walk away from season 4, they feel like we did them justice and we did the show justice. I’d love for them to feel a little sad because there will be no more new episodes, but I think they will be satisfied with what we have done.

Buffa-So now, you guys go into post-production?

Targum-From the moment we start shooting, the post-production team and editors start on the assembly. Half of the episodes have already gone through director cuts, producer cuts and gotten notes from the network. Sound is mixed. Things are cut together. Now the intense post-production begins. We also shot origins this year, and they focused heavily on Sugar Bates, played by Frankie Faison. Matty Rauch(aka Clay Burton), got to write and direct some of the origins. He gives 100% and it was gratifying to give him the room to explore the other creative needs he has. 

Buffa-If you had to pump fans up with one line about Season 4, what would it be?

Targum-Whatever expectations you have, we are going to exceed them. We are going to shock, surprise and take the fans on an emotional roller coaster ride. I truly believe this will be the most memorable and mind blowing season yet. We are going out with a bang!

In the make believe business, everybody is a creator. The producer creates the possibility. The writer creates the reality and world the characters live in. The director frames those characters in that world. The actors make them come alive. Adam Targum’s effect on Banshee in Season 3 was seen in nearly every episode, whether it was the Burton-Nola fight or the Tribal shootout. He’s got a wicked mind that extends to an original form of violence, action and power as well. The whiff you got of his talents in Season 3 comes full circle in Season 4, along with Madsen, Tropper and the cast.

Instead of crying about the inevitable end, think of the way a show like Banshee, which blows originality out of the water on a weekly basis, will go out. Think of the spectacle. Forget Game of Thrones. Winter is coming folks. It’s name is Banshee and it arrives in January. Consider this the official tease.

At The Knick: Whiplash review

The-Knick-season-2This week at Steven Soderbergh’s vivid 1900’s bare hands life saving shack, Doctor Thackery was getting his groove back. Watching Clive Owen play this marvel is like riding a train race down a track missing a few rails. The car bends left, dips down hard and coils to the right all at once. As good of an actor Owen is, this role has challenged him in ways other roles only hinted at.

Curing the addition starts with a poke. Thack tests out his ability to detect activity in the brain via his electrical charge. Essentially being able to manipulate a certain part of the brain at will and decipher which part of the brain pushes someone to become addicted to drugs. With a drug addict’s exposed brain, Thack pokes around with his little electrical stick and gets some feedback. Seeing the smile on his face is a memorable shift in his persona.

When a subway construction accident injures dozens of people, the Knick swings into action so does Soderbergh’s brilliant camera usage locks into gear. The theater is stuffed and the alternate rooms are stuffed with bleeding, heavily damaged and close to death folks. Soderbergh uses extended takes, shifting from Thack to Chickering to Edwards and over to Gallinger as they desperately try to save as many lives as possible. There were no IV’s, multiple operating rooms and machinery to combat a horrible accident with mass injuries and casualties. It was truly hands on.

The Thack Genius strikes again when he gets his probe back out and uses the electrical current and circuit to detect metal in the injured. When the probe touches it, the nurse gets a ring in her ear. Five hours after we opened with a painfully lost Thackery stuck in a rehab hospital, the doctor/surgeon has relocated that streak of greatness. Like a pitcher settling into his groove on a mound, Thack finds a way.

Do yourself a favor and watch Grey’s Anatomy and then watch The Knick. The differences in machinery, number of doctors, lack of racial wars and all the other restrictions there were in 1901 are remarkable. Also, one show is okay and one is fantastic.

Edwards has agreed to work with Doctor Chickering and use radium to try and cure his mother’s malignant tumor. Michael Angarano hasn’t gotten a lot of play until this development in the second season. The earnestness in the actor’s face is quickly transforming into a young Thack. Someone who is willing to take huge risks to save lives. A season ago, Bertie was afraid. He is no longer that man.

“The time to invest is when there is blood in the streets.”

Young Henry Robertson(Charles Aitken) doesn’t care about the setbacks in the subway construction. When his dad, August, wants to slow down the subway building, little ambitious Henry pushes back. He wants to plow ahead. And this was accurate in history. Death or high water, the construction continued. When the blood flowed, the interest in advancement was sustainable.

Thackery and Abby are getting closer and recapturing what was lost between them years ago. What was hinted at in Season 1 has been expanded upon in Season 2, showing a more tender side of the maverick doctor as he cures her disease and returns to her life. However, he can’t use drugs in her house. She has no idea he has figured out the exact way to stay even. Little cocaine for the sky high burst and the come back down effect of heroin. Seeing them kiss in the morning was bittersweet and makes me think something bad is on the horizon. People can’t be happy on this show.

Picture a dad and his two finest kids. That is Thackery and his two best doctors, Gallinger and Edwards. The two docs are intense rivals, with the first one edging to get closer and closer to Thackery and becoming his next in command. This may end in a death but only time will tell. They each want to be on the ground floor of Thack’s next discovery.

All hail Eve Hewson. As Nurse Lucy, a woman who has spent an extremely long amount of time loving men who don’t love her back. Now, Henry Robertson has a crush on her. A mad crush. He gets the episode title in describing the effect she has on him. “Whiplash”. Watching Hewson here, for once, she has the higher ground. She is in command. With Thack and Bertie, she had to do all the work and the falling hard. Here, good old Henry is chasing her. He has no idea who he is dealing with.

Back at the Barrow house, Herman is telling his kids goodnight and settling in for a cigar when Mrs. Barrow comes down to jump him for some surprise frisky time. Poor girl. She has no idea that her husband is scheming 24/7. He is scheming the construction of the new Knick. He is scheming his own wife out of a marriage by putting more passion into his prostitute/girlfriend. He’s also buying an apartment in the city for his girlfriend. He is a scheming pile of horse shit who the entire audience has to love to hate. He’s paid his debt to Ping Wu, but now wants to buy his woman’s escape from the business. What a bastard.  One day, Barrow will get what is coming to him.

Thackery performs the surgery on the addiction patient, locating the area that he believes houses the addiction. He cuts the small part of the brain out, knowingly overstepping the risks of rendering other parts of the brain deficient. He could cure his addiction but make his smile crooked or damage another area of the brain. For now, it’s a win for Thack until later he realizes the man doesn’t respond to a command. In the process of supposedly curing his addiction, he rendered him dead in other areas.

Gallinger, after meeting a doctor who supervised in lesser thinking boys(the not so smart crew) and wanted to take away their ability to reproduce. So Gallinger performs off the book vasectomies for this man. I bet this won’t go down well with Thackery or Edwards.

What did we learn this week? Thack has his groove back but he may be off in his chase to cure addiction. Gallinger is doing whatever he can to stay ahead of Edwards but may hurt his stature in the hospital. Lucy is pulling Henry in close, as the subway construction rages on. At The Knick, innovation is constant and always moving, sometimes faster than the doctors can keep up. If Natural Selection ever found a time to play a role in society, it was in New York in 1901.

The Knick reviewcap: Getting the best the hard way

the-knick-god-has-a-rivalWelcome to the Buffa reviewcap, where I blend the idea of covering a TV show without being boring about it. As in “here is what happened and let’s see if you are still awake.” I like to review the episode while pondering what just happened. Here is what I took from Season 2, episode 3, entitled “Best of the Best with the Best”

Thackery and addiction reaches testing

The rabid doctor is taking a full swing at this curing addiction thing and why not. Here is a brilliant man hospitalized for taking too many drugs who was broken out to come back to work and do more drugs to find a cure. The episode opens with him snorting a combination of heroin and cocaine. One thought runs through our head thinking is he just doing this to get by or is he really trying to solve something? The doctor is not quite back in yet. He’s hovering around sanity on a drug high.

Poor Chickering

The young doctor has joined the stiff pencil “other” Dr. Levi Zinberg(Michael Nathanson) across town and now gets pushed to the back of the crowd, performing low liability surgeries and working his way back up. When he tells his colleagues to call him “Bertie”, the chief of surgery correct him. He is “Dr. Chickering”. Buddy, the place is called Mount Cyanide. What did you expect? Everything about Cyanide is stiff and bitter, as opposed to The Knick, where it’s all loose and easy. Surgeries in the basement, cocaine snorting in the lab and other fun shit. It’s 1901 and you may die before you are 40 so what the fuck?

Dr. Edwards burns for ambition and other things

Cornelia and the doctor have no idea how the Inspector popped up on the shore dead, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share a kiss. So much tough here. Two people who are forbidden to be together yet have that burning desire and have already produced a child(albeit short lived) together. Drama!

Gallinger has his wife back…sort of

Dr. Everett Gallinger has his wife back. She has new teeth but possible a head that is still scrambled. A doctor who is doing everything to recover his status at the hospital while searching for his sanity at home. Every character on the Knick has a few shades of grey and a complete dark area.

Take Nurse Lucy for example. She loves Thackery, feels safe around Birdie, and is trying to reconnect with her father. Geeeezzz!

A death at the hospital Thackery was at leaves a door open for him to experiment on the dead girl and see if his “addiction theory” has any legs or is just a chance to get high. He gets consent to operate on the girl as long as the face is left alone. The coldness back then was prevalent and the search for decency was a short wick away from it.

Sister Harriet is still in chains at pre-trail with a high priced lawyer who hasn’t seen a bit of cash due to Tom Cleary’s lack of funds. When the lawyer fumbles his case, the judge takes a chance to slam Harriet. This is a personal vendetta for the judge. Back in the early 1901, abortion was pure murder and there was no place for it. As if Harriet needed another block in front of her freedom, the judge is not standing firmly against her.

I love Cleary. Here is a tough, bitter, imperfect yet passionate man. The first few episodes of Season 1 made him out to be an asshole and someone who cared little for anything not resembling a coin. As the season progressed, we saw his friendship with Harriet blossom into one of the best things about the show. An ambulance driving bear and a decent yet rule bending nun. Only on the Knick.

Gallinger walks into a room full of diplomats, political wannabes and talky peeps and basically says, “You just don’t like black people”. Remember in Season 1 when Gallinger was on the other side. Slowly, he is turning into something else. The situation with his wife Eleanor is changing him from coldly ambitious to something different.

Lucy’s healer dad is at it again, and she sits there waiting for forgiveness. Will he provide her with peace of mind or blaze her in front of his followers? He waits until later when he is counting his winnings from the gathering to broil her for her sins. He beats her and whips her as well, making her feel ashamed for her drug infused binder with Thackery. For Healers, you can’t make any mistakes.

Bertie is courting the writer covering his new hospital and trying to distance himself from The Knick.

Cornelia tries to ask her husband to help with Sister Harriet’s case and gets rebuffed for wanting to help a baby killer. Too bad he doesn’t know Harriet helped kill her baby. HA!

Tyler Bates’ score is so good. A hypnotic blend with a procedural heart to it. Clive Owen’s haunted face stalks the parlor for a woman to do drugs with and have some sex and you just go with it due to Owen’s ability to hold your attention no matter what he does. Afterwards, he winds up at Abby’s home. His long lost love who he is helping with her nose procedure. A beautiful woman with a terrible disease that Thackery never feels like he can help enough.

Edwards and Gallinger continue to battle in the theater over live bodies. This war has raged since season 1, and it only gets worse when Thackery continues to choose the black doctor genius over the esteemed white male prototype. Gallinger angles towards the “I saved you” route and sets himself up to be launched by Thack. It is Edwards that has discovered, tested and proved procedure after procedure, while Gallinger was tending to his sick wife and emotions. “Jealousy won’t suit you here as much as drive and ambition.” The writing of Jack Amiel and Michael Begler is so good during the showdowns between doctors. It’s never over the top.

Driven by his need to help Abby, Thack wants to cure syphilis, a terrible disease that claimed many lives during that period. In order to do this, Thack would need to nearly cook the patient at a 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Baking the disease. Edwards persuades him to attack malaria first to find a perfect method. Here is a case where each of these doctors is threatened by the other but also pushed in the best way. Edwards wants to be Thack but can’t move past him. Thack wants to be the first to everything and he needs Edwards.

You fight cocaine addiction with heroin and try to take down syphilis with malaria. Back in 1901, you used one evil to kill another. Old school shit ladies and gents!

Herman Barrow is a bastard! He wants top of the line materials for the new Knick up town and the architect is curious as to why. Barrow also wants to slow construction down, and all this has to be leading to him slipping more money under the table and back to himself. Something is always tricky and slimy with Barrow. Right when he thinks he has the construction where he needs them, an old haunt shows up. Apparently, one of Bunky’s men didn’t die and now has new accounts at Tammany Hall. Old habits don’t die after all. James Fester is out for Barrow, further cementing the fact that you can be slippery in life but there’s no way you are escaping your past. He can’t get his girl at the brothel and he owes money to everyone in town.

Cleary needs drugs. Speed. Adrenaline. Anything to get his fighter to win a match and score the bear some cash. He cons a nurse into giving him a couple boxes to keep on the carriage to help a dying patient. Everyone on this show is selling something. A faulty story, wish, need, or a need to be recognized. Maybe just survival. Cleary’s fighter wins but has a heart attack afterwards and dies. There are no victories on The Knick.

Dr. Edwards has a bum eye, a grudge at work, enough ambition to fill a warehouse but he also has a wife back to scam him. His parents have no idea who she is, and Edwards tells them he met her in Paris when medicine was going well and he was happy. When he decided to jet and come to New York, he basically left her. She is back to wreak havoc and Edwards’ already fractured existence just got an extra kick of drama.

Line of the week from Cleary after dropping a body off for Thack to dissect-“If people knew what you did in here, they wouldn’t trust you to give them a fucking aspirin.”

Come back next week for more Knick examinations. As the promo in Season 1 said, modern medicine had to start somewhere.

The Knick on Cinemax: “Ten Knots” for a ride home

The-Knick-season-2Sometimes your worst enemy can be your next breakthrough. For Thackery, his poisonous descent into drug addiction left him in Cromartie Hospital at the end of Season 1 and Season 2’s opening frame finds the viewer resting on Thack’s current condition. Feeling good but in what way? He may be clean from cocaine but heroin is his new mistress to numb the pain of normal society. He isn’t getting any cleaner and that is the premise that drives the opening our of Steven Soderbergh’s second season of The Knick. What does clean mean if you are still addicted to a drug? Thack opened Season 1 on top of the world and in charge of the theater. Season 2 finds him fractured in both mental and physical capacities.

Here’s the catch. Thackery doesn’t want to leave the hospital any time soon. He tells the visiting Everett(Eric Johnson) that they treat them like mice but he likes the joint anyway. He spends his hours testing out new procedures on patients, fumbling around with paper until his next dose and feels like the environment suits him. This is where Clive Owen’s genius is realized. Bumping around as if gravity didn’t exist, the most brilliant and reckless doctor is a willing puppet. Gallinger has a remedy for that and it’s not speeding up Thack’s next serving of heroin. You see, Gallinger is a man who needs Thack in order to recover his spot at the Knick and in order to bring stability back to his life. After the death of his newborn baby in Season 1 and the deterioration of his wife afterwards, he needs Thack.

Elsewhere at The Knick, things have changed, for better or worse.

Dr. Edwards(Andre Holland) was left bloodied in a street fight at the end of Season 1 but now he is the interim chief of surgery and has steered the hospital in a great direction. He makes new discoveries every day and has welcome Dr. Chickering(Michael Angarano) back into the fold as an understudy/protege. Bertie has changed, having grown from innocent and ambitious learner into a chillier human being. Like a turtle restricting back into his shell, he denies a birthday gift from the still torn Nurse Lucy(Eve Hewson).

Edwards wants to make a move to become the permanent chief, but the board of directors have other plans. The scheming Barrow(Jeremy Bobb) wants to bring someone else in, preferably not “black”. While brilliant, Edwards knows that the color of his skin will restrict him from advancing in medicine. Being in 1901, African Americans didn’t even have an opportunity to reach anywhere inside a hospital except for scooping coal into the furnace in the basement. He’s a man in the wrong era with a unique set of skills. Due to his idiotic ordeals in the streets fighting, he also has a detached retina that may never properly heal. For now, he drops medicine into an eye that may keep him from making history. A doctor’s eyes are as important as his hands.

Cornelia(Juliet Rylance) is still trying to do good deeds, and when she brings food and supplies into Chinatown for the impoverished to consume, her carriage is overrun by wild hungry folks who don’t care about being fair. Decency lies a distant 2nd to natural selection.

The new Knick is coming along and Barrow is asking for top dollar architects, construction crews and supplies. He hasn’t turned over a new leaf and thinking about patients or his staff. Barrow still owes lots of money and while he wants to help his facility, he has to be playing an angle. He doesn’t like when a call from Dr. Hackett, the physician treating Thackery informs him that the doctor has disappeared suddenly from Cromartie.

Meanwhile, Thack wakes up on a boat and he is tied up. An outside shot shows the boat alone in a monstrous sea between waves. He has been kidnapped by Gallinger, and has no choice. The facility is way behind them and in order to get healthy and go home, he has to tie ten knots. Something that all sailors learn how to do in order to properly handle the sea. He has no choice. It’s either do this or sail forever. No drugs. Nothing. A pale white empty vessel of flesh, Thack goes to work. In doing this, Gallinger is bringing back the chief that the directors want and a tactic that will derail Edwards’ ultimate plan to take over. If he is going to get Thack clean, he must get the doctor back to level ground and get control back in his hands. Tying the knots will reestablish control.

One of the best parts of season 1 was the burgeoning friendship that developed between Sister Harriet(Cara Seymour) and Tom Cleary(Chris Sullivan). The bullied vulgar yet soft hearted ambulance rider for the Knick found an equal in Harriet and they performed abortions together on the side. When he got drunk, she did a job alone and walked into a trap. Now she is in jail and a saddened Cleary visits her in jail, telling her about his plan to try and get out free of the charges. It won’t be easy due to the ridicule that abortions carried but Cleary is going to figure something out. After all, he feels halfway responsible for her condition. In trying to raise money, he unsuccessfully promotes and trains a local wrestler. Somehow, Cleary will try to free his unlikely friend and ally.

“Get well or jump off.”-Gallinger

As he ties his knots, Thackery has a new goal. Cure addiction. A man who has seen the devil up close and can’t quit a drug has few options. He could remain addicted and do enough drugs until his brain is scrambled, his genius has dissolved and his life ends. Or he could try to cure himself and millions of others. After he ties the tenth knot, he sees a woman. The woman is someone Thack saw die on his table due to his addiction.

Did I miss anything? Sure I did. I won’t cover every bit of the 53 minute episodes. I’ll chat about the parts that made a dent and stuck in my mind days later. This isn’t a recap. It’s a weekly review and breakdown. Take it or leave it. Soderbergh has something special here. At least he hands the audience a scalpel.

The Knick isn’t a mesmerizing show but that is only because it has room to grow and story to tell. The cinematography, costume design, sets and feel color the show in gray doom. The writing and directing is cold and assured. The acting is perfectly rendered but it hasn’t touched greatness yet. It’s a compelling show that like its main character, still has a discovery to make.

I look forward to spending a few more hours in Soderbergh’s hypnotic world this winter.