The US and the Holocaust Review

There is a famous quote about history. As cliche as it sounds, it is the truth

If we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

The new PBS three-part documentary series, The US and the Holocaust premiered this past weekend. Co-created and co-directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, actor Peter Coyote narrates the story of the near destruction of European Jewry from 1939 to 1945.

Within the film, there are interviews with historians, survivors, and readings from respected actors such as Meryl Steep, Paul Giamatti, and Liam Neeson. It does more than share what the events in our history books have already told us. It takes the viewer back in time to show what led the Shoah and repeats what most of us (hopefully) know. Though it’s been nearly a century since World War II, it is clear to me that we have not learned from the experiences of that generation.

The thing that hit me immediately is that there are far too many parallels to what is happening now both in the United States and around the world. Xenophobia and hatred have once again become the norm. We have a former President who has authoritarian tendencies, refuses to accept the results of the previous Presidential election, and has convinced many that he is the victim.

What made me angry was the spoken and unspoken complicity of a majority of Americans at the time. Though this country is supposed to be the land of immigrants and freedom. Instead, it became a land of isolation and hypocrisy. That hypocrisy was clear in the first episode when the connection was made between the Nazi’s racial laws and Jim Crow.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I would say that it is required viewing for every American.

The first two episodes are available for streaming on the PBS website. The third will air tomorrow night at 8PM.

P.S. After I watch or read anything about the Holocaust, I can’t help but think of what the victims or the descendants might have given to the world. The late performer Olivia Newton-John was Jewish on her mother’s side. Her maternal grandparents got out while it was still possible to do so. If they hadn’t, it is very likely that she would have never been born and therefore, not entertained multiple generations of audiences.

All Creatures Great and Small Character Review: Helen Alderson

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television show All Creatures Great and Small. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

There are two ways to get through life: complain endlessly or just get through it. Though complaining has its place, it takes much less time and energy to just deal with the cards that life has dealt you.

In the PBS/Masterpiece television series, All Creatures Great and Small (based on the book series of the same name), Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) comes from a long line of Yorkshire farmers. Since the death of her mother, Helen has both taken the duties of farming and being the surrogate mother to her much younger sister Jenny (Imogene Clawson). Born and raised in this world, she is practical, intelligent, and just does what needs to be done. She is more than capable of getting behind the wheel of a tractor or rangling an unruly animal.

That does not mean that Helen is a tomboy who despises wearing dresses and putting on makeup. When the occasion arises, she is just as comfortable in a dress and heels as she is in overalls.

She is also the object of affection for two different men. When we originally meet Helen, she has been with Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis) for quite a few years. They have grown up together. The next natural step in their relationship is the ringing of wedding bells. Hugh comes from a wealthy family and would be able to provide for Helen and her family.

But there is someone else waiting in the wings. James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) is a newcomer to the area. He nearly instantly develops a crush on Helen and is devastated that she is spoken for. Though he respects the fact that she is in a relationship, James never wavers in his love for Helen. Eventually, Helen and Hugh go their separate ways. It takes some time, but James does eventually propose. She accepts and all appears well for their future.

But neither knows that World War II is waiting in the wings, threatening to turn their world upside down.

To sum it up: Though Helen is the romantic lead, she is not defined by the two men who want to be with her. She is her own woman who can clearly take care of herself and her family. It is that levelheadedness that allows modern women to relate to her but still keeps her grounded in the period that she lives in.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

All Creatures Great and Small Character Review: Mrs. Hall

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television show All Creatures Great and Small. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

For most of human history, women have been contained the roles of wives, mothers, and housekeepers. That does not mean, however, that within their own homes, they are powerless.

In the PBS/Masterpiece television series, All Creatures Great and Small (based on the book series of the same name) Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), whose first name we later learn is Audrey, has been the housekeeper for Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) for a number of years. In addition to cooking and housework, she helps him to run his veterinary practice.

Mrs. Hall is a widow whose son has maintained a distant relationship with his mother. Though she is a figurative mother to Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse) and assistant Vet James Herriot Nicholas Ralph), she would prefer to be in her real son’s life. Balancing her out is Siegfried, who is the figurative father in the home, creating a unique chosen family.

She is calm, easygoing, and in control, while Siegfried is passionate, a little out there and a force of nature. Mrs. Hall is the one who convinces her boss (who at this point is more her friend/confidante) to give James a chance after he nearly botches his interview.

Though she has been married previously, that does not mean that romance is out of the question. A local man takes an interest in her. There is also a spark of something with Siegfried. But with World War II on the horizon, a new love may be the last thing on her mind.

To sum it up: Mrs. Hall is the glue of that household. Without her, the men who reside there would be hungry, dirty, smelly, and not able to do their jobs properly. Though she dwells within the traditional realm, her strength, warmth, and cool head makes her more than what she seems to be.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

All Creatures Great and Small Character Review: James Herriot

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television show All Creatures Great and Small. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

One of the first great adventures as an adult is our first job. That experience (at least from my perspective) forever stays with us, regardless of how long our resumes become.

In the PBS/Masterpiece television series, All Creatures Great and Small (based on the book series of the same name), James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) is a newly licensed veterinarian who is eager to prove his worth in 1930s England. He arrives at the home and practice of Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), hoping that Dr. Farnon will hire him.

Dr. Farnon is quite a character and would test the patience of the most understanding of people. He nearly goes home without a job, but the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) convinces her boss to give James a chance.

He is also helped by Siegfried’s carefree and sometimes less than practical younger brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse). He is the yin to James’s yang in terms of temperament, perspective, and professional outlook.

Over the course of his employment, James becomes a respected veterinarian, appreciated by his colleagues and the community. Though he has the option of returning home to Scotland, he stays in Yorkshire. He is also infatuated with Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton). But Helen is spoken for. Hugh Holton (Matthew Lewis) is a local boy who is the son of the landed gentry. Eventually, Helen and Hugh go their separate ways, opening the door for James’s wish to become reality. When we last saw James, he had it all. A solid career, a fiance, and a future.

But World War II is on the horizon. He doesn’t know it yet, but everything that he knows is about to change.

To sum it up: James is an everyman. He doesn’t want much. He wants a career he loves, a family to come home to, and a place in this world to call his own. He has all that and so much more. But before he can get there, he has to go through a few growing pains along the way.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

Best New TV Shows of 2021

*I apologize for the delay in posting. I should have written this before New Year’s Eve.

  1. Loki: Tom Hiddleston shines once more as Loki, the complicated immortal who has become much more than the standard antagonist. Forced into new circumstances, he goes on a journey that forever changes him.
  2. The Wonder Years: This reboot of the beloved 1980’s/1990’s series is just as poignant as its predecessor. The choice of making the main character and his family African-American only adds to its relevancy.
  3. Law & Order: Organized Crime: This spinoff of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit starring Chris Meloni as returning Detective Elliot Stabler is a thrilling and spine tingling hour of television.
  4. Ordinary Joe: This new NBC series is the story of one man and three distinct life paths before him. Told concurrently and using different colors for each decision, is is a reminder of how one choice can affect the rest of our lives.
  5. Impeachment: American Crime Story: The latest chapter of this long running F/X series focuses on the affair between Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) and former President Clinton (Clive Owen) and the impeachment trial that followed. Instead of focusing on Clinton, the story is about the women who were directly affected by his less than honorable actions.
  6. WandaVision: This first foray by the MCU via DisneyPlus is everything it promised to be. Wanda Maxmioff and Vision (Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) are living in family sitcom wedded bliss. But it not what it seems to be. With a star making turn by Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness, this series is a must see.
  7. All Creatures Great and Small: Ths unexpectedly Masterpeice/PBS series is adorable and charming. A rookie vetenarian starts his career in rural Yorkshire in the 1930’s and grows in unexpected ways. The new season starts tonight at 9PM ET/ 8PM CT.
  8. Atlantic Crossing: This second Masterpeice/PBS series tells the story of the friendship/supposed affair between Franklin Delanor Roosevelt and Crown Princess Martha of Sweden during World War II. Forgotten for nearly a century, this tale of one woman’s drive to save her nation is truly worth watching.
  9. The Book of Boba Fett: This latest entry into the Star Wars universe from DisneyPlus just premiered on December 29th. Though only two episodes have been released, it is already asking questions that are begging for answers.
  10. Behind Her Eyes: Based on the book by Sarah Pinborough, this six part Netflix series about a married man’s affair with his secretary has a delicious ending that is jaw dropping and completely out of left field. Few endings have wowed me as this did.
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Around the World in 80 Days Review

When we travel, we do more than step out of our comfortable bubbles. We see the world from another perspective and perhaps learn from that perspective.

The new Masterpiece/PBS series, Around the World in 80 Days, is an eight-episode miniseries based on the Jules Verne book of the same name. The program stars David Tennant as Phileas Fogg, Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout, and Leonie Benesch as Abigail “Fix” Fortescue. Their goal (as explained by the title), is to travel to different parts of the globe and return to England within 80 days of their departure date.

To be clear, I have not read the book. I have heard of it, but it has yet to be on my TBR list. This review is based solely on the television program.

The problem is that whatever it is that should hook me in is missing. Maybe it’s because I’m not really a fan of Verne or his books. Or maybe it’s that I was just bored.

Do I recommend it? No.

Around the World in 80 Days airs on PBS on Sunday nights at 8PM.

Throwback Thursday: This Old House (1979-Present)

When we watch home renovation shows, it appears that the process is quick and easy with very little stress. The truth is that it is a process that is time consuming, expensive, and riddled with potential problems.

This Old House has been part of the PBS schedule since 1979. The OG of this genre of television, it was originally hosted by Bob Vila. The program follows the craftspeople as they rebuild a house that appears to be past its prime. Unlike other shows of this nature, it is informational and takes multiple episodes, if not an entire season to give the building new life.

While other reality shows that also focus on property restoration are flashy and Hollywood-ized, This Old House is down to earth. It may come off as boring, but I would wager that someone who is interested in this topic would the show fascinating.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Flashback Friday: American Masters (1986-Present)

We all know the basic narrative of a biography. The subject was born on x date, accomplished certain things, and died on y date. Once this skeleton is in place, it is up to the writer(s) or creative team to ensure that whoever this person is, they are brought to life in full color, flaws and all.

American Masters has been on the PBS schedule since 1986. This long-running and award-winning documentary series tells the story of American artists, writers, actors, dancers, filmmakers, etc. What these people have in common is that they have left a lasting cultural mark on our nation.

I enjoy this series. It goes beyond the surface, revealing the real person behind the icon. In doing so, the viewer not only gets to know the subject, but perhaps also changes their opinion about whom they have perceived them to be.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Rita Moreno & Mental Health: A Revelation That Needs to be Heard

Rita Moreno is more than an icon. She is a trailblazer who opened the door for non-POC performers to not only have a career, but to play roles than were more than the servant or the background character. She also dealt with mental illness and lived to tell the tale.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It premiered a couple of weeks ago on the PBS series American Masters. The documentary follows her life and career from her early days playing “ethnic” characters to her current status as one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. Best known for her role as Anita in 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, it was one of the first (if not the first) fully fleshed out Latino characters on the big screen. Up until that point, Latinx performers either had to hide who they were (a la Rita Hayworth) or play a stereotypical characters ( e.g. Carmen Miranda).

While I was not surprised that she was sexually assaulted. Then, as now, women are still seen as sex objects to be used and thrown away when our usefulness outside of the bedroom has vanished. What I was surprised is that she has lived with mental health problems for decades and survived a suicide attempt. I found her honesty to be refreshing and comforting. It was as if she was saying “I did it, you can too”.

If I could, I would send an invite to watch this film to anyone whose life is complicated by mental illness. If it provides one person at least a brief respite from the mess in our heads and the push to ask for help, I would be satisfied.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is available for streaming on the PBS website.

Flashback Friday: Secrets of the Dead (2000-Present)

When someone dies, it may appear that everything they knew was lost when they passed. But if we look closely enough, what they left behind speaks to us as much as the person themselves.

Secrets of the Dead has been on the PBS schedule since 2000. In this documentary series, each episode examines one person or moment in history using the known facts and the objects that stand in for the subject. Part scientific/archeological study and part true-life story, this program is ideal combination of educational and entertaining.

I find this series to be fascinating. It balances the history and the drama to present as much as a complete story as possible. Bringing these people and these worlds back to life, the audience is treated to a compelling drama and a time in history in which they may not have not had all of the facts.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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