Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: ‘The Salinas Project,’ ‘Notary Publix,’ ‘The Other One’
“The Salinas Project” (KLCS, Sunday). Carolyn E. Brown’s documentary focuses on four young Latinos, all children of immigrant agricultural workers, living in East Salinas, Calif., a community marked by poverty, gang violence and a combination of low wages and high rents that tends to crowd a lot of people into small spaces. There is a socially inspirational thrust to the film; this is less a picture of a problem than of individuals who have managed not to become part of it: to find an outlet, to finish high school -- most, maybe all, are the first in their families to do that -- and go on to college. Still, as a portrait of success, it’s very much particular to this place; indeed, part of its value is that it sets you down somewhere you might not know or know only in passing -- I have often passed through Salinas without ever really meeting it -- and gives you a good look around. In some shots, whether by accident or design, the speaker is out of focus and the background in, but the effect is to lead your eye into the environment. (Brown also wants to tell you something about life among the field workers, and breaks in the middle to visit with one, who shows you where and tells you how he lives.)
That there is not a lot of drama played out on-screen -- the challenges her subjects have faced, including losing siblings to gang violence, are recounted rather than portrayed -- doesn’t make the film any less involving. The kids are well-spoken and attractive, engaged and engaging; it doesn’t take long to fall in love a little, to want things to work out for them. (You get the sense they will, to the benefit of their hometown, and maybe the wider world.) Brown’s gift to them, and to the viewer, is to settle on their faces and let them talk, at relative length, without cutting away to satisfy the perceived need for speed that makes a frantic hash of so many documentaries nowadays. (She does, however, lean a little too heavy on the underscoring; the speakers don’t need that help, nor does the listener, and it tends to make sentimental what’s profound to begin with.) Note that it airs locally Sunday at 7 p.m. on KLCS, a PBS station licensed to the Los Angeles Unified City School District, available over the air at Channel 58 and via the usual cable and satellite outlets.
“Notary Publix” (Above Average). Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live” and her actual sister, Emily Lynne, play actresses who are not sisters who play sisters who are notary publics in the overheated paralegal melodrama that occupies the foreground of this unfolding new Web series. Above Average, as I have had occasion to write before, is the Internet wing of Lorne Michael’s Broadway Video video empire, and with their exaggerated Long Island accents, hairstyles and wardrobe, notaries Gina and Teresa Fra Diavolo (played by Ashlaheigh Braun-Samuels and Kulie Bishop, played by McKinnon and Lynne) are just the sort of characters who have thrived on “SNL” over the years. Indeed, given the company, it’s practically an “SNL” sketch already: McKinnon’s castmate Aidy Bryant plays the sisters’ “bitter rival,” Erin Oatmeal, a notary from the office of the county clerk; castmate Jay Pharoah guests as her boss, Hieronymus Fisk. (Properly said, Bryant plays actress Sissa Macarren, who plays Erin Oatmeal.) Each episode concludes with a look behind the scenes, which is to say, a visit with Ashlaheigh and Kulie, who comment, at a relatively lower level of insanity, on what we’ve just watched. This all takes less than five minutes, sometimes less than four. The series’ latest installment, issued last week, is a Christmas episode that begins with a touching nod to O. Henry. Gina to Teresa: “I sold my collection of human ears to buy you these headphones.” Teresa to Gina: “I cut off my own ears to add to your collection of human ears.” (The National Notary Assn. has, incidentally, taken notice.)
“The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir” (Netflix). Directed by Mike Fleiss (a producer of TV’s “The Bachelor” and also of the torture-porn “Hostel” films, if you want to turn that conjunction over in your mind), this film on the Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist arrives just a little more than a month ahead of the band’s threatened last reunion ever -- a three-night stand over July 4 weekend at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which sold out faster than you can say “Jerry Garc--.” (Trey Anastasio from Phish will stand in the late Garcia’s place alongside surviving members Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.) “Mine has been a long, strange trip,” says Weir -- well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? The documentary jumps between old footage and new, as present-day Weir shows us things in his not-tidied-for-company home studio (the 1959 Gibson 335 he bought in 1970 for $350, a Jerry Garcia Bobblehead), performs “Cassidy” with the National, and takes his daughters to see the Haight Street Victorian where the band used to live in the days when San Francisco was affordable to scruffy bohemians and a mobile device was a transistor radio. (“It was my chore to answer the door,” Weir tells his kids. “I was the only guy in the band with any manners.”)
The film will be primarily of interest to fans, who will be familiar with much of what it contains -- but that is a lot of people, after all, not even counting the ones who won’t admit their interest, and Weir is a likable guy with a story to tell. A dyslexic imp who was “kicked out of playschool,” just to start, he was still a teenager when he hooked up with local legend Garcia at a Palo Alto music store; his Acid Test nickname was “The Kid,” he learned to drive from Neal Cassady. The Dead’s journey across the decades from a little hippie dance band to an incredibly huge hippie dance band is sketched broadly, with large lacunae. (As is often the case with show business stories, it’s the stuff that precedes the familiar double-edged sword of success and celebrity that’s most interesting, like playing in North Beach topless bars where the dancers hated them, Weir remembers, “because they were used to a two-minute, 30-second tune ... and we’d play for like 15 minutes and they’d just run out of gas.”) But the main points are all hit, with some explanation of the method (the band moves to support “whoever’s moving the story furthest, fastest”) and Weir’s own as-yet inimitable guitar style, inspired by the comping of jazz pianists McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans. There is much about Weir’s relationship with Garcia, his spiritual big brother, a late-life junkie he would have liked to have saved but finally just had to accept: “They say that blood is thicker than water -- what we had was thicker than blood.”
Robert Lloyd comes and joins the party every day @LATimesTVLloyd
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