TIME Televison

The Leftovers Spins the Wheel of Fortune

Paul Schiraldi/HBO

A confounding but compelling episode feels like an "Are you in or out?" moment for the show. I'm in.

“Two Boats and a Helicopter” is the episode of The Leftovers that convinced me I was sticking with the show for the season.

This is not the same as saying that I left it convinced that The Leftovers is a great show, or that it will become one. It’s still tremendously confusing. It’s mysterious, and not necessarily to a purpose–we’ll have to see. And this episode was structurally very different from the first two, suggesting that The Leftovers is still figuring out what it’s going to be. What it’s going to be may, I realize, turn out to be a fancy pile of nothing.

But this tense, wrenching episode felt like an “Are you in or out?” juncture for The Leftovers, and I’m in. In part, it was a function of story; in radically shifting its approach and concentrating on one character, Christopher Eccleston’s Rev. Matt Jamison, the show had a drive that felt missing from the beautiful but diffuse first two episodes. The mood and sense of aching were still there, and how, but “Two Boats” also gave us one character with a specific problem, and even in a show like this, that makes a difference.

I know we’re all tired of the Lost comparisons at this point, but I can’t help it with “Two Boats,” which echoed the structure of producer Damon Lindelof’s earlier series–specifically Lost‘s flashbacks, with their reversals, cruel dramatic ironies, and hints of larger forces at work. It’s also remarkably directed for tension–see, for instance, the final roulette spin in the casino, where we hear the ball land but don’t see it, instead seeing Matt’s face tense up, then finally break into the release of a smile. But The Leftovers is distinctively its own thing: its characters are torn not between faith and science but between purpose and despair.

Rev. Matt is a man of God who has suffered loss almost Biblically: he was spared death as a child, we learn, only to lose his parents in a fire, to all-but-lose his wife (Janel Moloney) to a car accident caused by the Departure, and to lose most of his flock to the aftermath of Oct. 14 and its crisis of belief. Eccleston’s stressed-out performance here is commanding top to bottom. Every blow in Matt’s life has hammered a spring within him tighter; if you put a mood ring on him, it would probably explode.

The way Matt has reacted is not exactly likeable; his campaign to prove that bad people were among the departed may be his idea of defending his religion (this wasn’t the Rapture, so God’s plan continues unchanged), but it’s also pretty spiteful and face-punchable. But at least he hasn’t given up, and a lovely little sequence in mid-episode shows all the little things that not giving up means: changing light bulbs and hymnal numbers alone, sweeping, scrubbing rugs. It’s a complicated thing he’s doing, both self-interested and genuinely–if misguidedly–idealistic. It’s hard to tell where his work to keep God’s place in people’s hearts ends and his struggle to maintain his own place in the community begins.

“Two Boats” is an episode full of what seem to be signs and portents–the red lights, the pigeons–but unlike in a Lost flashback, it doesn’t necessary to some larger grand design. Like Hurley, Rev. Matt wins big and loses disastrously, but it’s not clear there is really any mystic power like The Numbers at work here. Instead, his story may simply be like the Departure itself–a dramatic, inexplicable stroke, but a random one with no discernable purpose. On the one hand, there has been an amazing, superhuman event; on the other hand, there is no particular sign that it happened because of anything we recognize as God. This may simply be life: unimaginably wonderful things happen, and unimaginably terrible things happen, and the only patterns to be found in it are the ones we impose on them after the fact. If Twin Peaks told us that the owls are not what they seem, this episode suggests that maybe a pigeon is just a pigeon.

There’s a lot to think about here, but what puzzles me most about “Two Boats and a Helicopter” is what’s meant by the title. It’s taken from an old story about a man who’s stranded by a flood and refuses help, from one vehicle after another, saying that he instead will wait for God to provide–until he drowns. When he gets to Heaven, God tells the man that He did provide–He sent two boats and a helicopter, didn’t He?

So what were the two boats and a helicopter here? Matt, after all, does not spend the episode placidly waiting around for divine intervention–no one, by boat or helicopter, offers to save his church, so he desperately tries to do it himself, and nearly does. How does the parable apply, then? Maybe–and maybe I’m being morbid here–losing the church was itself the two-boats-and-a-helicopter. Maybe the universe is offering Matt an out: a chance to let go his crusade, get his life together and care for his wife, pocket his winnings and let the Guilty Remnant take the punches.

Maybe, but–call it foolishness or heroism, vanity or selflessness–he’d rather do anything than let go of his one way of making meaning from what’s happened. The Leftovers has shown us several ways people deal with a world-changing event: violence, hedonism, insanity. Matt’s way is to accept his losing cause and stick with it, no matter what color the wheel lands on. “I had to try,” as he tells the young man who came to church for a baptism but admits that he won’t be coming back. “If I don’t, who will?”

TIME Televison

CBS Has Passed On How I Met Your Dad

Producers are starting to look at other networks after CBS turned down the How I Met Your Mother spinoff project

CBS has turned down the spinoff project How I Met Your Dad, and the show is reportedly starting to look around for other networks.

Early reports indicated that the show would be a shoo-in at CBS, which aired the nine seasons of the original comedy How I Met Your Mother. But after seeing the pilot from Carter Bays, Craig Thomas and Emily Spivey, the network decided to pass, E! News reports.

CBS’ Nina Tassler said “there were elements of the pilot that didn’t work out,” but the higher-ups at the network “love this show and we love these producers.”

Citing anonymous sources, E! News reported that the 20th Century Fox, the producer of How I Met Your Dad, has already had preliminary discussions about moving the show elsewhere.

[E! News]

MORE: TIME’s Favorite Terms Invented by ‘How I Met Your Mother’

TIME Televison

RECAP: Mad Men Watch: “Field Trip”

Jim Cutler, Joan Harris, and Bert Cooper at a meeting.
Jim Cutler, Joan Harris, and Bert Cooper at a meeting. Michael Yarish—AMC

The third episode of the season finds Betty making her return to the series and Don making a not-so-triumphant return to the offices of SC&P

On Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, the Don Draper Redemption Train continued to chug along with just a few bumps — but first, let’s deal with the return of everyone’s favorite love-to-hate-her ex-wife, Betty Francis.

Last season, Betty’s story arc was something of a nothing-burger as she experienced a crisis of confidence: she gained weight, she lost weight, she dyed her hair brown, then she dyed it back, and so on. Nothing particularly exciting happened until she and Don had a throwback-Thursday conjugal rendezvous while visiting Bobby at summer camp, so this week, it was promising to see Betty volunteer to chaperone a school field trip — she’s a much more interesting character when she gets out of the house. Betty may say she’s happy being old-fashioned, raising kids and supporting Henry Francis’ political career, but watching pal Francine tell Betty all about the challenging boredom of staying at home reminds viewers of what they’ve known all along about Betty: Ms. Feminine Mystique is suffering from a case of the problem that has no name.

Maybe she’s just practicing what she preaches to Francine when she decides to spend more time with Bobby, but Betty does seem to be actively interested in trying to get to know him in this episode. (The way he ecstatically tells his teacher, “We were having a conversation!” suggests he notices, too.) Betty accompanies him on a school trip to a local farm, she listens to him talk about monsters on the bus, she volunteers to be the first to drink fresh cow’s milk in the barn — because she’s not like a regular mom, she’s a cool mom! But when Bobby accidentally trades his mom’s sandwich for some candy, suddenly the perfect day of mother-son bonding is ruined. Betty has probably thrown bigger fits about stupider things before, but this time, a bummed-out Bobby leads her to ask husband Henry Francis, “Why don’t they love me?”

Mad Men must be getting serious about her evolution as a character, as fans have had six seasons’ worth of answers to that question. Betty just isn’t a natural parent. She doesn’t understand that kids will be kids and make dumb mistakes sometimes, and when they do, she’s too personally offended to accept their remorse. Plus, she has a history of seeking attention from children to supplement whatever attention she’s not getting elsewhere in her life — remember her bizarre friendship with Glen Bishop? Betty is the frostiest ice queen January Jones has ever played — and that’s saying something for an actress who starred as X-Men’s Emma Frost, a villain who could literally turn herself into a diamond and become impervious to freezing temperatures. Maybe Betty is just doomed to be unhappy in the Weinerverse (that certainly seems to be the case for Peggy these days). Or maybe, like her ex-husband, she’s wondering why the people around her aren’t suddenly throwing themselves at her feet after she shows the first sign of effort.

Which brings us to Don. After Megan’s agent gives him a heads-up that his wife is coming unhinged as her acting career fails to take off, he flies out to California to keep her from unraveling — only that’s exactly what happens to their marriage. His inspirational pep talk about overcoming Hollywood rejection immediately raises some red flags, so Megan bites: Why is he here, where is he spending his time and whom is he screwing? Clearly, Don wasn’t just feeling guilty when he told his airplane acquaintance in the season premiere that Megan knew more than enough about his misbehavior — she’s been onto him for some time, even if, for the sake of their bicoastal marriage, she’s also doing her best to keep up appearances. (Which makes her “Did you get fired?” joke to Don after his surprise visit all the richer — some of the best exchanges on Mad Men this season have involved two characters who know each others’ secrets but delicately dance around them.)

The new and improved Don Draper opens up to Megan, spilling the details of his administrative leave and admitting he was too ashamed to tell her the truth. The confession doesn’t go as well as he expected, though — Don may have turned over a new leaf, but in Sunday’s episode, he mistakes honesty for automatically being a good person when, in fact, he’s selfish. He expects Megan to be impressed by his revelations, but he looks stunned when Megan suggests they separate; he believes fixing their marriage means getting his old job back, not moving out to California to support her; he declares he’s been on his best behavior, as if staying faithful and sober-ish was going above and beyond the call of marital duty. Don hardly seems tempted by the couple of blondes he could have easily bedded in this episode, but it’s obvious he’s more concerned with Megan’s opinion of him than Megan’s actual well-being.

Their phone conversation later in the episode recalls something Peggy told Ted last season after he decided to move to California following a change of heart about their romantic future: “Aren’t you lucky to have decisions.” Progress, schmogress — Don is still the center of his own universe, and everyone else is just a satellite that revolves around him. As the episode suggests, Don won’t truly get his act together unless he figures that out.

If his rough patch with Megan wasn’t a wake-up call in that regard, Don’s awkward return to SC&P certainly was. Marital drama motivates Don to take a lunch meeting, and when an offer comes down the pipeline, he confronts Roger, who invites him back to work — but neglects to tell everyone else at the agency. For the second episode in a row, the hard-working people of SC&P are caught off guard when another member of the Draper family shows up without warning. This time, instead of Sally discovering that her father no longer works there, Don realizes that everyone has moved on without him — even before Peggy gets a chance to bitterly rub that in. New faces have taken his old office; secretaries that once waited on his beck and call now have their own offices. As Joan so eloquently puts it in a partners’ meeting, “How does he fit into everything now? This is working. We’re still mopping up the damage he’s done.”

The partners are faced with some choices: Do they keep wasting money paying Don’s salary while he’s on leave, or do they take a financial hit and buy him out? Do they risk aiding their competition by firing him, voiding the non-compete clause of his contract, or do they keep a creative genius on the sidelines? Do they save his dignity over their own? Mad Men would have taken an interesting turn if the partners decided the answer to that last question was “no” — a true test of Don’s recovery would be whether he could handle whatever rejection detonates inside him — but what ends up happening works, too. Don gets to make his not-so-triumphant return to SC&P, but with a few conditions: He can’t drink, he can’t be around clients unsupervised, and he has to get approval from either Lou or the partners on just about everything.

This deal should change things dramatically. Instead of swooping into save Peggy from Lou’s slacker leadership with some dramatic Draper comeback coupe, Don may now have to work alongside her to earn back a smidgeon of his former glory — if he even gets that much. And for the first time in a long, long time, the man who used to be the boss now must answer to one.

TIME Televison

University of Iowa Bans Girls From Filming On Campus

Lena Dunham, 'Girls'
Lena Dunham in 'Girls,' season 3, episode 9. Mark Schafer—HBO

Maybe Hannah won't be heading for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop after all

When Sunday’s season finale of Girls ended with a shot of Hannah Horvath (played by writer and creator Lena Dunham) hugging her acceptance letter from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to her chest, viewers were pretty certain she was headed for grad school. Now Hannah’s future is less certain, with Variety reporting that University of Iowa has denied HBO’s request to film Girls on its campus.

Though the first three seasons have followed the show’s four main characters as they traipse around Brooklyn, a move to Iowa would indicate a real step forward for Hannah, a struggling writer. Having Hannah make her way to the prestigious writing program made sense to the show’s writers, particularly staff writer Sarah Heyward, who is a graduate of the program. Yet, the University of Iowa feels differently.

“While we are pleased that the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is receiving national attention and that our graduate is doing well in her career, our general practice is to not allow filming, due to potential disruption to campus,” university spokesman Tom Moore told the Press-Citizen in a statement.

Of course, it’s always possible that HBO and the Girls crew will simply substitute another university campus for Iowa Writer’s Workshop scenes, but for a show that’s made its name on being ultra realistic—sometimes too realistic, according to critics—it’s likely a disappointment for the crew.

[Variety]

TIME tribute

Homeland Actor James Rebhorn Wrote His Own Obituary

James Rebhorn in 2012 in New York City.
James Rebhorn in 2012 in New York City. Robin Marchant—Getty Images

And it's a tear-jerker

Actor James Rebhorn — who had roles in Homeland, Meet The Parents, My Cousin Vinny and Independence Day – died on Friday at the age of 65, from melanoma. The veteran actor worked in show business for 50 years, with dozens of parts to his name, and he continued to take on roles long after his diagnosis in 1992. Before his death, Rebhorn was able to write his own obituary, a loving ode to his family detailing the adoration he felt for his parents, sister, wife and daughters. The obit, titled “His Life, According to Jim,” was posted by the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jersey City on Monday.

You can read the full, tear-jerking tribute here:

James Robert Rebhorn was born on Sept. 1, 1948, in Philadelphia, PA. His mother, Ardell Frances Rebhorn, nee Hoch, loved him very much and supported all his dreams. She taught him the value of good manners and courtesy, and that hospitality is no small thing. His father, James Harry Rebhorn, was no less devoted to him. From him, Jim learned that there is no excuse for poor craftsmanship. A job well done rarely takes more or less time than a job poorly done. They gave him his faith and wisely encouraged him to stay in touch with God.

He is survived by his sister, Janice Barbara Galbraith, of Myrtle Beach, SC. She was his friend, his confidant, and, more often than either of them would like to admit, his bridge over troubled waters.

He is also survived by his wife, Rebecca Fulton Linn, and his two daughters, Emma Rebecca Rebhorn and Hannah Linn Rebhorn. They anchored his life and gave him the freedom to live it. Without them, always at the center of his being, his life would have been little more than a vapor. Rebecca loved him with all his flaws, and in her the concept of ceaseless love could find no better example.

His children made him immensely proud. Their dedication to improving our species and making the world a better place gave him hope for the future. They deal with grief differently, and they should each manage it as they see fit. He hopes, however, that they will grieve his passing only as long as necessary. They have much good work to do, and they should get busy doing it. Time is flying by. His son-in-law, Ben, also survives him. Jim loved Ben, who was as a son to Jim, especially through these last months.

His aunts Jean, Dorothy and Florence, numerous cousins and their families, and many devoted friends also survive Jim. He loved them all, and he knows they loved him.

Jim received his BA at Wittenberg University and his MFA at Columbia. He was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Nu Zeta 624, a life-long Lutheran, and a longtime member of both the AMC and ACLU.

Jim was fortunate enough to earn his living doing what he loved. He was a professional actor. His unions were always there for him, and he will remain forever grateful for the benefits he gained as a result of the union struggle. Without his exceptional teachers and the representation of the best agents in the business, he wouldn’t have had much of a career. He was a lucky man in every way.

–Jim Rebhorn, March 2014

[Vulture]

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