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Culture Television

AMC Film Holdings LLC and ITV


AMC Film Holdings LLC and ITV

Television

Is that your final answer?

Quiz asks more questions than it answers while probing a caper

In 2001, we had the internet. But the search for online information remained slow and cumbersome, making it a still-ripe environment for the trivia-based game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

The real-life scandal that grew out of that fandom is the inspiration for AMC’s riveting (though somewhat potty-mouthed) new drama Quiz.

In the first episode, we see how the monster hit began in the United Kingdom and crossed the Atlantic to win huge ratings on ABC. But more than that, we learn how a dedicated community of “quizzers” grew up around the program. 

Truth, of course, is always truth. But human beings aren’t perfect arbiters of it, and our perceptions are easily deceived.

There’s something sweetly human about the fringe community of viewers who find connection through their mutual obsession with the show. Eventually though, shared fandom takes a less sporting turn as the quizzers figure out how to game the system. This allows Diana Ingram (Sian Clifford), her brother, and finally her husband, Army Maj. Charles Ingram (Matthew MacFadyen), to maneuver themselves into the winner’s circle. It’s the unlikeliest sort of crime syndicate—if it’s a crime at all. 

As feckless Charles stumbles and second-guesses himself to the biggest prize, Millionaire’s producers start to smell a rat. They review the tape of Charles’ performance and suspect the subtle coughs from the audience are really signals. It’s at this point that Quiz becomes something more than an amusing legal mystery. 

Charles’ big winning episode is the original viral video—the public watches and rewatches a tape the producers have specially edited to amplify the coughs and Charles’ odd behavior. 

Everyone thinks they know what they saw. Everyone has an opinion. Soon, people who’ve never met the Ingrams feel justified in meting out mob justice, harassing their children, shooting their dog, and spitting on Charles as he takes his daily walk.

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CW

Brec Bassinger in Stargirl
CW

Television

Superhero or super-stereotypes?

Will CW hit be a culture war salvo?

On the surface, the CW’s hit new comic book adaptation Stargirl is standard superhero fare. 

Titular character Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) has a star-spangled costume and mild-mannered alter ego. Were it not for a few modern touches like a blended family with a stepfather (Luke Wilson) who acts as sidekick and a stepbrother fond of mild profanity, any network might have aired it in the last 50 years.

But look closer and it’s clear that Stargirl is setting up to become an epic battle reflecting what we’re all debating these days: justice.

On one side: the Justice Society of America, which includes Stargirl and Yolanda “Wildcat” Montez. Yolanda joins when her strict religious parents berate her for “shaming the family” after she sends a topless photo to a boyfriend.

On the other: the Injustice Society of America. Old Glory flutters proudly from the homes of wealthy white men. Their front business is a townwide gentrification project. Some members speak in Kentucky-fried accents despite living in the Midwest. Their unclear aims include “fixing the country,” “rebuilding America,” and “making it a safer place to raise [their] children.” 

It’s too soon to say Stargirl takes an unqualified stance in the culture wars. But if stereotyping your enemy comes first in creating propaganda, she may need rescuing by Captain Nuance.

Top-grossing superhero movies

 6. The Incredibles 2 (2018): $1.24 billion

 5. Black Panther (2018): $1.35 billion

 4. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): $1.41 billion

 3. The Avengers (2012): $1.52 billion

 2. Avengers: Infinity War (2018): $2.05 billion

 1. Avengers: Endgame (2019): $2.8 billion

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History Network


History Network

Television

A man for our times

Ulysses S. Grant shines in a new docuseries that mostly focuses on his military career

It’s heartening to watch the progression: A white man working the fields alongside black slaves, then freeing a slave from his in-laws, saying, “God protect you, Wilbur.”  The same man commands some of the Civil War’s first black troops. Then as president, he advocates for Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction plans and helps ratify the 15th Amendment to grant men voting rights regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Later, he sends agents south to capture and prosecute Ku Klux Klan members.

Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States, was a man for turbulent times, and we could learn from him now. History network’s new three-part miniseries Grant shows a steely-eyed man of character. Despite his flaws, he advocated for blacks throughout his life, loved his wife, and led his army and country tenaciously. 

As Justin Salinger masterfully portrays Grant’s stoic, calm countenance, it’s easy to forget he’s reenacting. He even looks like Grant.

Salinger captures the boredom and loneliness Grant endured while at California’s Fort Humboldt several years after fighting in the Mexican-American War. It’s hard not to cringe when we watch him guzzle from a flask, trying to fill the void separation from his family left. This film, based on Ron Chernow’s best-selling biography of Grant, says he learned to control his drinking. Detractors spread rumors exaggerating his imbibing all his adult life.

Other scenes show the general’s commanding presence atop his steed: He directs troops at the brutal Battle of Shiloh. Later he maneuvers regiments into position to lay siege to well-fortified Vicksburg, high on the Mississippi River bluffs. He was an expert horseman too—a reputation he earned when he clung to a galloping horse’s side to avoid enemy fire early in his infantry career. His battlefield acumen earned him accolades as a military genius, which is the film’s major focus.

Grant’s fairness and compassion shine when he gives Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee favorable surrender terms, allowing soldiers to keep their swords and horses. Earlier he ensured Lee’s starving men got rations.

The reenactments, combined with historians’ enthusiastic insights, beautifully restored photos, color-coded battle maps, and Grant’s “voice” from memoirs, humanize an extraordinary and often misunderstood Civil War hero and reluctant politician. Each episode thrusts viewers into the heart of national upheaval and creates a desire to understand how Grant navigated the chaos.

One of the series’ shortcomings is too little examination of his two-term presidency. And, like many recent historical documentaries, it ignores Grant’s faith. In reality, he was a Methodist, though he prayed privately and rarely attended church.

The terms “grit” and “resiliency” are popular in today’s lexicon. This series shows Grant personifying both to the end. Beware: Battle scenes are gory.

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