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'Talking Funny,' 'Cinema Verite,' 'Treme': HBO Goes 3 for 3
April 21, 2011  | By David Bianculli

In round one of its April assault of fresh TV programming, HBO last weekend presented the premiere of its fantasy epic series, Game of Thrones, and immediately renewed. This weekend, in round two, HBO fires off three more shots, all of them bullseyes...


-- Friday night at 9, Ricky Gervais replaces his own The Ricky Gervais Show, which presented its season finale last week, with another HBO comedy program: Talking Funny, a one-hour conversation about comedy with no studio audience, no host, and four top-of-their-game comics: Gervais (who also is executive producer), Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K. , and Chris Rock.

It's very funny, but also very illuminating about the comedians' respective styles and perspectives. On almost every issue, they find themselves dividing into camps. HBO ought to make another of these specials -- and next time, invite Larry David, too.


-- Saturday night at 9, HBO presents a telemovie, Cinema Verite, that's a new based-on-fact drama about the making of the landmark 1973 PBS series An American Family (shown at right). Widely credited as TV's first reality series, it presented an extended look at a typical nuclear family in Santa Barbara: father Bill, mother Pat, and five kids.

Except, in this particular family, one son was openly and proudly gay, the husband is unfaithful and out of touch, and the wife decides to use her moment in the spotlight to ask her husband for a divorce -- as the cameras roll.

Tim Robbins and Diane Lane play the parents. James Gandolfini, intentionally and completely different than his iconic HBO role on The Sopranos, plays Craig Gilbert, the filmmaker with the then-unusual idea of recording someone's private life.


The movie is involving from start to finish, but even it avoids some key questions: hinting but never dramatizing, for example, that Gilbert and Pat Loud had an affair themselves at some point in the filming.

In any event, the dramatized reality in Cinema Verite pales next to the actual reality captured by An American Family -- and this movie DOES juxtapose them directly, daringly, putting the real and recreated images side by side on a film-editing monitor. At times, especially at the end, we get the real Louds undiluted, on The Dick Cavett Show and elsewhere -- and that's when this HBO telemovie throws its most powerful punch.

-- Sunday night at 10, just after episode two of Game of Thrones, HBO completes its weekend assault with the second-season premiere of Treme, the savory examination of post-Katrina New Orleans and the residents who did, or didn't, stay behind.


David Simon and Eric Overmyer of The Wire are the team in charge here, and this year they're stirring their gumbo slowly. They've hired chef Anthony Bourdain as a writing consultant this season, which explains the early emphasis on the terrorizing New York chef who bosses around Kim Dickens' Janette. But you feel she'll return to the Big Easy before long, and leave the Big Apple behind, because she belongs in New Orleans.

And viewers belong in front of Treme. The music, the characters, the complexity of plot and place -- everything about this series puts you right there, in New Orleans, with the sort of detail and honesty that makes it something tender, inspiring -- and, just as often, haunting.

Friday on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I'm scheduled to review all three HBO shows. To read or hear my report, once it's broadcast and posted, click HERE. 




wilberfan said:

Wow--I'm salivating already! Thanks for the heads-up on these three terrific-sounding shows!

Comment posted on April 21, 2011 5:37 PM

Eileen said:

David, for those too young to have been part of the "An American Family" experience, WNET will run all twelve episodes beginning at 11 pm on Saturday evening.

I remember being riveted to this show; it was literally the talk of the town each morning following the previous evening's airing. It was an amazing peek into the lives of people just like us.

What passes for "reality tv" today pales in comparison to this show. While folks like the Kardashians and all the Real Houswives think they are the originals of reality, the Louds were so far ahead of the pack it's still an amazement. And with all the bickering and family interaction, they really still really cared about each other.

Anyone reading this who hasn't had the privilege of seeing the Louds really owes it to themselves. You will be intrigued and astounded that all of this took place way back in 1973.


Comment posted on April 22, 2011 10:52 AM
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