television review


“Orwellian” is a word formerly overused just a hair more that “kafkaesque.” I say formerly because neither is adequate to describe the spluttering antics of the fat man with tanning-bed-goggle eyes who now occupies the pinnacle of power in the world. Or more aptly the gyrations of his quisling enablers. For example, Lindsay Graham, who now that a man of principle he claimed as friend is safely dead, pivots to take a load of presidential semen in the face and asks for more.

George Orwell was born to privilege. Educated at Eton, he went on to imperial civil service as a police commissioner in Burma in the 1920’s. Sickened by his experience, he became a passionate socialist and anti-imperialist and, coincidentally, one of the foremost prose stylists of the twentieth century.

But that’s not all. He walked the walk. He sure did. In 1936 he shipped for Barcelona and joined the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He stayed true to the cause despite the lice and hunger and boredom of the trenches and the sordid political infighting of the high command. He got a great book out of it—Homage to Catalonia. And one night he also got a bullet in the throat, one that just barely missed his carotid. Nevertheless he stayed in Spain to keep up the fight until he learned that not only the fascists wanted him dead, but the Soviets who’d infiltrated the anti-fascist ranks as well.

During World War II he served as a commentator for the BBC. His literary career exploded shortly after war’s end with Animal Farm and 1984. The former book blew up the hypocrisies of Stalinist tyranny; the latter went several steps further with a dystopian future surveillance state in which free thought was eliminated by both totalitarian brutality and the overwhelming gibberish of propaganda.

Strangely, despite an extremely public career that included a stint as a broadcaster, there are neither video nor audio records of Orwell. Thus we are left to imagine how he moved and what he sounded like.

The BBC fixed this, to the extent it can be fixed, with an entirely imaginary documentary about Orwell comprising completely fictitious newsreel and interview footage. Christopher Langham appears to channel the man. Or so I think.

I’ve posted about this before. After a campaign season in which the fat man with the funny hair and his trailerpark magahats dominated the mediasphere with lies and top-of-the-voice nonsense, I thought it was worth conjuring up again the shade of a man who understood the necessity of clear expression to clear thought.

Here’s the link to the video. Watch it.


If you thought Long Day's Journey Into Night was funny, Horace and Pete will split your sides.

When I first heard about the series, featuring Louis CK--the star and producer--Alan Alda, Steve Buscemi, and Edie Falco, I expected deft, daring, socially incisive comedy.  But it's as bleak a chronicle of addiction, family disfunction, and mental illness as anything O'Neil ever wrote.  And it's great.

The series follows two brothers, the sixth generation of Horace and Petes to have owned the eponymous hundred-year-old Brooklyn dive.  Louis CK's Horace is in his late forties, divorced, with an adult daughter.   Pete, played by Steve Buscemi, is a few years older; his chronic schizophrenia is controlled by medication, and he has never lived anywhere but behind the bar or in the hospital.  Alan Alda is bartender Old Pete, cranky and crotchety, but not in a cute way--in a mean, bigoted, vicious way.  Edie Falco plays Sylvia, a sister who wants to sell the Horace and Pete's  for millions in the gentrifying borough.  Around the bar are its regular patrons, all alcoholics, happy to drink watered whiskey because they know drinking it uncut in amounts equal to their thirst would have killed them long ago.  The show's few laughs come from Old Pete's rage at hipsters who wander in seeking artisanal cocktails or craft beers--the bar serves draft Budweiser and straight well whiskey, gin, or vodka.   

The story line largely concerns Horace's struggle to keep the bar and Pete's struggle to keep his sanity.  Along the way Sylvia is diagnosed with breast cancer and Louis forms a relationship with a woman who may be transgendered--an ambiguity that provides an opportunity for a long polemic--but is certainly alcoholic.  And Mayor Bill DiBlasio makes a cameo appearance, ignored because Pete has gone missing.  (Forgive the vagueness, but the last thing I want is a spoiler.) The sets are classically theatrical, and almost all the action takes place in two rooms, the bar and Horace's dingy living room above it.  

But if the scarcity of yux was a surprise, the show is nevertheless a distinct success.  The final episode contains one of the most powerful evocations of paternal cruelty and its filial cost I can imagine.  It alone justifies the cost of the series, which can be bought directly--and exclusively--from Louis CK's website.  

The show isn't what you expect.  See it.