By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Also good: VH1's sketch-comedy series, Random Play; Downtown(MTV), animator Chris Prynoski's lower-Manhattan slacker romance; and The PJ's(Fox), developed by Will Vinton and Eddie Murphy, Downtown's way-way-uptown Claymation counterpart. It seems to have been the thing to do, in and out of the press, to bash Matt Groening's Futurama (Fox), which inevitably and unfortunately begs comparisons to The Simpsons, but I've liked what I've seen. Two grown-up-friendly cartoons for the small fry are the collage-style Angela Anaconda (Fox Family Channel), which tells droll tales of an 8-year-old girl, her odd friends, distracted parents and curly-haired nemesis; and The Wild Thornberries(Nickelodeon), relating the ecologically right-on adventures of a family of nature documentarians, featuring the voices of Lacey Chabert (Party of Five), Flea and Tim Curry. And speaking of sweet transvestites: a round of applause for Eddie Izzard and his HBO live-concert Dressed To Kill. I also very much liked CinderElmo (Fox), in which the little red Muppet replayed the fairy tale, with the human help of Kathy Najimy, Oliver Platt, French Stewart and, as the Princess, Felicity's Keri Russell, pre-bob.
SHOWTIME'S ORIGINAL SERIES ARE ON THE WHOLE A sorry lot, but it ran some good movies this year, some original, some picked up from that (across-the-49th) parallel universe known as Canada, the best of them made for kids: The Planet of Junior Brown, The Devil's Arithmeticand Restless Spiritswere three of those, respectively concerning an enormous piano prodigy, a spoiled girl transported back in time to the Holocaust, and the ghosts of two French fliers trying to get to New York. HBO made too many biopics, did better with the fictional Earthly Possessions, a May-September Something Wildstyle road flick with Stephen Dorff and Susan Sarandon, and A Lesson Before Dying with Don Cheadle superb as a schoolteacher tutoring a condemned man. TNT delivered the superior You Know My Name, a Prohibition-era Western with Sam Neill and Arliss Howard; A Slight Case of Murder, sophisticated suspense with William H. Macy and Sports Night's Felicity Huffman; and Passing Glory, an inspirational tale of basketball and civil rights starring Andre Braugher and Rip Torn.
An American Love Story (PBS), Jennifer Fox's 10-hour study of an interracial family, was the year's big documentary event, in part because it was big, and in larger part because of the telegenic charm and articulate intelligence of its subjects. The Mississippi: River of Song (PBS) was another big doc, nothing fancy but full of good music. Plenty of fun is Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends, a Bravo British import about American subcultures that follows the gangly journalist through a series of get-involved, George Plimptonesque engagements with porn stars, professional wrestlers, born-again Christians, flying-saucer fanatics and New York actors. His willingness to adopt, even temporarily, his subjects' world-view, to follow them out on their limb, makes his reports, in spite of their comic intent, more informative than most and often oddly touching.
Finally, though I often rail against the commercial distortion of the medium, the year's most perfect minute of television was "The Morning After,"a Nike spot directed by Spike Jonze, in which a jogger takes a nonchalant New Year'smorning run through a city in which all the worst Y2K predictions, and more, come true: Cars crash, ATMs go mad, missiles streak the sky, and wild animals roam the street. It's only a plot to sell you shoes (in the guise of an attitude), but certainly we may praise the enemy when he has fought cleverly and well.
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