How Queen Elizabeth II mastered the media, from her coronation to ‘The Crown’
Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who found themselves turning on “The Crown” last night.
Months before the premiere of its fifth season, Netflix’s chronicle of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign over Britain is once again on our minds after the monarch died Thursday at 96. After all, as staff writer Meredith Blake writes, the first sovereign of the television age understood the medium’s power, even as she endeavored to maintain her privacy — and inspired a new relationship between the royal family and the viewing public that reaches from a progenitor of reality TV to Emmy-winning dramas.
Also in Screen Gab No. 51, we prepare for Monday’s Emmy Awards, chat about “Power Book III: Raising Kanan” with showrunner Sascha Penn, recommend two murder mysteries and more. And, as always, we want to know what you’re watching, so send your TV or streaming movie recommendations to email@example.com with your name and location. Submissions should be no longer than 200 words and are subject to editing for length and clarity.
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Recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times
Murder is just murder, fictionally speaking, and what distinguishes one series from another is the way it’s decorated — say, with an amateur detective who is also… a priest, a landscape gardener, a magician. Or with an exotic setting. “Recipes for Love and Murders” (Acorn TV), brings a triple helping of novelty, with an amateur detective, played by the wonderful Maria Doyle Kennedy, who, as Tannie Maria, writes recipes, is an advice columnist and lives in a small town in the dusty South African region called the Karoo (where Sally Andrew, on whose books the series is based, lives). When a woman who wrote Maria about leaving her husband is found murdered, Maria and enterprising reporter Jessie (Kylie Fisher, spunky) set off to investigate. Though there is some darkness to the series, as well as social seriousness, it’s kept cozy by its very much post-apartheid, classically eccentric community and the sweetness of its characters. There is a bit of flirtation, and unexpressed longing. And there is food — Maria’s effective love advice always includes a recipe — which we see prepared, step by step. —Robert Lloyd
Speaking of murder, I spent the long holiday weekend devouring “Bad Sisters” (Apple TV+), already highly touted by Mr. Lloyd and staff writer Meredith Blake, who recently interviewed series creator Sharon Horgan about the addictive black comedy. Set, like “Ulysses,” on the gorgeous, windswept shores of Dublin Bay, the series follows the Garvey sisters: protective Eva (Horgan); pugnacious Bibi (Sarah Greene), restless Ursula (Eva Birthistle), freewheeling Becka (Eve Hewson) and optimistic Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), whose abusive, irredeemably loathsome husband, John Paul (Claes Bang), is the thorn in all their sides. The series opens on his corpse, so JP’s ultimate fate is never in question. (I’m half-disappointed they didn’t call it “John Paul Must Die.”) Yet “Bad Sisters,” replete with an unskippable title cover of “Who Shall I Say is Calling?,” constructs two engrossing mysteries — how the Garveys snuffed the prick out, how they hope to evade capture — alongside a portrait of sisterhood so warm I found myself wanting to marry in with the Garveys myself, or maybe be murdered by them. Like Horgan’s “Catastrophe” before it, the series thus conjures up the heady brew of loyalty, fatalism, tenacity and blind hope at the heart of the isle’s dark whimsy: “I’m always lucky at my bad luck,” as one character quips, might be the most Irish sentiment of all. —Matt Brennan
Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about
Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday, was known to have a saying: “We have to be seen to be believed.”
She understood that as monarch, she played an extraordinary yet almost purely symbolic role — that her job was not to pick sides or have a discernible point of view on anything other than the superiority of the corgi, but merely to show up, to exist in the public eye while scrupulously guarding her inner life.
The quote also cannily speaks to her unique place in history as the first sovereign of the TV age. Her seven-decade reign began in 1952 — a few months after “I Love Lucy” premiered on American TV. In a crown and dripping diamonds, she made a glamorous cover girl on an early issue of TV Guide dedicated to coverage of her coronation, the first to be broadcast in full. Despite her well-deserved reputation as a traditionalist, Elizabeth also understood the power and the importance of the emerging medium, and had insisted, against advice, that cameras be allowed inside Westminster Abbey for the first time. More than 20 million people in the U.K. watched the coronation on the BBC — many of them on sets acquired for this sole purpose. (Another 85 million people watched highlights of the event in the U.S., proving that Americans have always been fascinated with the very institution we rejected.) In the late ‘60s, Elizabeth took the even more radical step of participating in a BBC documentary, “The Royal Family,” following her life over the course of a year — a precursor, of sorts, to the kind of celebreality shows that would eventually litter the airwaves. She is said to have regretted the decision and, for many years, the film was difficult to access. (For now, at least, you can watch it on YouTube).The ubiquity of cameras and rise of round-the-clock news coverage is also what made her job so extraordinarily difficult during a period of vast social change, sweeping geopolitical realignments and sordid familial turmoil. Throughout it all, Elizabeth was an anchor, an ever-present stabilizing force as practical and sturdy as her footwear.
She was, as Mary McNamara wrote this week, “the most enduring main character in the world’s longest-running soap opera,” but she played the decidedly un-juicy role of the stolid family matriarch. She was more like a trusty piece of furniture than a scenery-chewing diva. When she declined to play to the back rows by showily grieving Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the public turned on her, but this period of alienation was brief. Gradually, people came to see her stoicism as an asset, even a necessity, rather than a personal deficiency.
By the time Elizabeth died a quarter century and a week after Diana, her image rehabilitation from unfeeling toff and heartless mother-in-law to beloved granny was complete — thanks, in no small part, to “The Crown,” the lavishly produced, Emmy-winning Netflix series that has, over four seasons, charted her reign and the evolution of postwar Britain. Written by Peter Morgan, the drama premiered in 2016, as Netflix was expanding aggressively into original series, and it was riveting because of how it dramatized and celebrated the inner life of someone who remained so fiercely inscrutable for so long.
Just as Elizabeth’s coronation inspired millions of Britons to spring for newfangled TV sets, “The Crown” became a reason for many to subscribe to Netflix — and for its competitors in the streaming wars to spend millions on similarly elaborate, Emmy-baiting historical epics. Once again, Elizabeth, with her constancy, helped usher in a cultural sea change. (Season 5 of “The Crown,” expected later this year, will cover the 1990s, including the period the queen herself, in a rare show of emotion, described as her “annus horribilis.”)
While we do not yet know much about the queen’s final hours or the ailments that may have led to her death, we do know that she was a professional to the end. Barely 48 hours before she died, she met with newly appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss and posed, smiling broadly, in front of a cozy fireplace at Balmoral. Like a seasoned theater actor — the kind Great Britain is known for producing — she showed up, effortlessly hit her marks, then took her final curtain call. —Meredith Blake
A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching
“Power Book III: Raising Kanan” has some growing up to do. That’s because the prequel to the “Power” universe of shows on Starz tells the story of how teenage Kanan Stark (newcomer Mekai Curtis) turns into the late criminal mastermind, played in the mothership by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. But the show is more than just a crime drama.
“Yes, stakes are high, and the dangers are sort of everywhere,” showrunner Sascha Penn says, “but the core of this series, and I think what really resonates for the audience, is that it is a family drama.”
But Kanan has started to question family ties in Season 2. Spoiler alert: It looks as if he’s about to get acquainted with his real father, police detective Howard (Omar Epps), after shooting him at the end of Season 1 and escaping to the beach. All together now: “Watch out.”
Screen Gab caught up with Penn to talk about the “Power” family dynamic, how his show is like “Succession” and more.
There was a little time jump in Season 2, Episode 1. What was the thinking behind getting off that beach with Kanan?
It just made sense that we would give the story a minute to breathe. From the writers’ perspective, all of us in the room, we felt like there was real value in Kanan being removed from everything for a few months ... and sort of having the ability to get a different point of view and perspective on himself, his mother and the world around them.
The opening credits are a kaleidoscope of mirror images. And Raquel (Tony Award winner Patina Miller) is molding her son in her own image. She couldn’t do it to her brothers. But she’s trying to do it to Kanan.
Absolutely. As you watch these two, you’ll see that coming into sharper and sharper focus. Raq starting to imagine for herself what her legacy may or may not look like. She’s very, very concerned about her relationship with Kanan. And so the closer he is to her, the more she can influence him.
Kanan admits this season that maybe he doesn’t want to go into the family business. For such a big revelation, you guys played it small.
Part of it, to be honest, is that we always sort of felt strongly that we want the violence to really matter on the show. We want it to feel like it’s impactful and that there’s a cost and ramifications for the violence. And so it was important that we not feel like what Kanan did at the end of Season 1 is something you could just sort of breeze past. There was a psychic cost for him, and we spent a lot of Season 1 establishing him as a fairly wide-eyed, innocent kid stepping into something that maybe was bigger than him. It just wouldn’t feel consistent with the character we created if he ... shrugged off what he did. It felt like it would be something that would stay with him.
The relationships this season seem to be quieter, but strained as if there’s going to have to be a break, right? The first episodes have been tense.
There’s a quote, the first line of “Anna Karenina”: All happy families are the same, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And so families by default are pretty tense. These are relationships that you’re forced into. And just because you’re related by blood does not mean that you see the world the same way, [that] you move through the world in the same way. Over the course of the first season, you got to know these characters, you got to understand the dynamics between them. And now in the second season, when you start to sort of think about the potential fractures and strains and stresses that exist between Raq and her brothers, Raq and Kanan, and Kanan and his cousin, these are very, very complicated relationships, just like any family.
What’s your favorite family drama?
I love “The Sopranos” (HBO Max). It’s funny. One show that I feel like our show compares very favorably to is “Succession” (HBO, HBO Max), which is a quintessential family drama. But they’re very similar shows. How should I put it? In the case of “Succession,” Brian Cox is at the center of it all and everyone else is just sort of orbiting, and it’s the same thing with us. The stakes are are different in our show. I would argue the stakes are probably higher, but it’s still a similar sort of narrative.
For any writer, that’s really fun to explore. Because we all have families. That’s one area where everyone has expertise. Even if your family is the conventional family with a mother and a father. There are a lot of makeshift families out there, there are a lot of extended families out there. One thing that’s interesting, though, when you bring that up, is Warren Littlefield wrote this book called “Top of the Rock.” And he said that every successful television series, once it gets to four or five seasons, becomes a family drama. Because what happens is the audience is so invested in those characters and their relationships. That’s what keeps them coming back. Whether it’s “Friends” (HBO Max) or “Seinfeld” (Netflix) or “ER” (Hulu) or “The Sopranos” or “Raising Kanan.” That’s the stuff that resonates with people. And that’s what we aim for.
What other crime drama besides your own would you recommend?
There’s a British series called “Gangs of London.” It’s on AMC. It’s executive produced [and] co-created by Gareth Evans, who directed “The Raid: Redemption.” I’m a huge fan of that series. It’s just exceptional work. It’s the type of stuff where, when you do what we do, you watch that [and] you’re just like, “Well, I hope to get near that somehow.”
Some creators have an endgame when they start a series. Do you have that?
I don’t know that I know the last line. Having said that, everybody knows where we’re ultimately headed, right? We know how Kanan meets his ultimate end. In terms of this series, I have a very good sense of where I think it’s gonna go.
Listings coordinator Matt Cooper highlights the TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on
Fri., Sept. 9
“Central Park” (Apple TV+): The animated musical comedy returns with new episodes.
“End of the Road” (Netflix): A family on a cross-country move has a killer on their tail in this 2022 thriller. Queen Latifah and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges star.
“Flight/Risk” (Prime Video): This new documentary revisits the two deadly air disasters involving Boeing 737 Max jetliners in 2018 and 2019.
“Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra at the Kennedy Center” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): The ensemble featuring refugees from war-torn Ukraine performs in Washington.
Sat., Sept. 10
“Husband, Wife and Their Lover” (Lifetime, 6 p.m.): A married couple find out the hard way that three’s a crowd in this new thriller.
“Marry Go Round” (Hallmark, 9 p.m.): A Paris-bound executive is torn between her ex and her fiance in this new TV movie.
“NFL Icons” (Epix, 10 p.m.): Player turned coach turned commentator John Madden is remembered in the season premiere.
Sun., Sept. 11
“Serena Williams: On Her Own Terms” (CNN, 8 p.m.): The tennis icon holds court in this new documentary.
“The Serpent Queen” (Starz, 8 p.m.): “Harlots’” Samantha Morton portrays ruthless 16th century noblewoman Catherine de Medici in this lavish new historical drama.
“American Gigolo” (Showtime, 9 p.m.): And everywhere he goes, people know the part Jon Bernthal’s playing in this new drama based on the 1980 thriller that starred Richard Gere.
Mon., Sept. 12
“90 Day: The Single Life” (TLC, 8 p.m.): The reality TV franchise entry is back with new episodes.
“War of the Worlds” (Epix, 9 p.m.): The alien invasion will continue until morale improves in a third season of the sci-fi drama.
“Halloween Baking Championship” (Food Network, 9 p.m.): The competition returns and — checks calendar — it’s not even October yet.
“Independent Lens” (KOCE, 10 p.m.): The new episode “Hazing” calls attention to fraternities’ and sororities’ dangerous and sometimes deadly pledging rituals.
Tue., Sept. 13
“Jo Koy: Live From the Los Angeles Forum” (Netflix): The veteran Filipino American comic takes it to the stage at the historic venue.
“Facing Suicide” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): Everyday people share stories of loved ones lost, but also of tragedies averted, while mental health experts weigh in on warning signs and coping strategies in this new special.
“The Come Up” (Freeform, 9 p.m.): If they can make it there, they’ll make it anywhere in this new reality series about young creative types in NYC.
Wed., Sept. 14
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu): Fred’s dead, but June’s (Elisabeth Moss) journey is far from over as this dystopian drama based on the Margaret Atwood novel returns for Season 5.
“Sins of Our Mother” (Netflix): This new docuseries tells the bizarre story of an Idaho woman charged in the religiously motivated murders of her two children.
“America’s Got Talent” (NBC, 8 p.m.): The winning act is revealed in the season finale. Terry Crews hosts.
“Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): It’s time for the mane attraction in this new nature special filmed in Kenya.
“Soul of a Nation” (ABC, 10 p.m.): This docuseries returns with “Trailblazers and Changemakers: A Hispanic Heritage Celebration.”
Thu., Sept. 15
“Vampire Academy” (Peacock): It’s like “Police Academy,” but, you know, with vampires in this new teen-themed supernatural drama.
“Atlanta” (FX, 10 and 10:30 p.m.): The hip-hop-themed comedy-drama created by and starring Donald Glover returns for a fourth and final season.
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