I’m Not An Expert, But…

| February 2, 2015 | 0 Comments

How many times have you heard a speaker say, “I’m not an expert, but…” The speaker then proceeds to discuss the subject they have already admitted they’re unqualified to talk about. It’s a dumb thing to say. Just say what you are going to say. It will stand on its merits – or not.

That said, I’m not a professional critic of either movies, theater, books, or television; which only means I am not professionally engaged in the high art of criticism – such as Irving Howe or Dwight MacDonald in the past, or Leon Wieseltier today.

Which brings me to this month’s column, the five television shows I’ve recently watched on NetFlix: “House of Cards,”“The Boss,” “Damages,” “The Fall,” and “Crossing Lines.”

Before NetFlix, I had never seen any of the five, but I knew about “House of Cards” and “The Boss,” as ant political person would; but my television watching was fairly disciplined: “Prime Minister’s Questions,” “David Letterman,” “John Stewart,” “60 Minutes,” “PBS News Hour,”“Frontline,” “Chicago P.D.,” and “Blue Blood.”

But with Netflix it appears I’ve abandoned any semblance of discipline. Shows I had never seen, I was suddenly watching and being drawn in – way in.

So, in rapid succession I went through the first two seasons of “House of Cards” (26 episodes), “The Boss” (18 episodes), “The Fall” (11 episodes), “Damages” (26 episodes), and, most recently, “Crossing Lines” (13 episodes).

That totals 3,887 minutes of TV viewing over 25 days, or two hours and thirty-six minutes a day (the equivalent of watching 17 major league baseball games).

Here’s a brief critical look at the five, beginning with “House of Cards,” the show That began my binge watching:

As I watched the principal and supporting players, the one and done characters, a single question came forcefully to mind: “Was there any redeeming individual in the entire 26-episodes?”

Of all the players in “House of Cards” – president, vice president, members of Congress, majority leader, majority whip, media, security details, business leaders, lobbyists – did even one person possess elementary ethical or moral standards? Or were they all corrupt to the core of their rotten souls?

Perhaps Freddy, the BBQ owner, where Frank Underwood (Kevin Stacy) went for his hide away lunches as majority whip, vice president and president, seemed to possess some sense of right and wrong (but, of course, Freddy had a checkered past, including prison time).

But Underwood and his wife, Claire (played by Robin Wright), were perfectly suited for one another, as both were totally amoral. Their one objective: how do I get more for me?

As majority leader of the House of Representatives, Underwood kills a fellow Congressman and pushes to her death on the tracks of Washington’s Metro, a young reporter with whom he was having an affair. Stunningly, he gets away with his murders, because he becomes vice president and president of the United States.

As for Claire Underwood, she has an affair with a photographer in Philadelphia, and at every turn, conspires to ruin people’s lives and reputations. In short, she’s almost as evil as her husband.

“The Boss,” which stars Kelsey Grammar, is about a fictional Chicago mayor named Tom Kane, who, in his own way, is as diabolical as Frank Underwood.

In the show, Kane has been mayor for 20-years, which is hardly a stretch, since in real life Richard Daley was mayor for 21; and one assumes was the “inspiration” for Mayor Kane.

It too has political scheming and intense rivalries between mayor, city council, and the business community, plus murder, many, but its offering of bare butts, boobs, and blow jobs, shames “House of Cards.”

I’ve been in and around politics and government since 1966. My resume includes service with the governor of California, two U.S. Senators, two members of the House of Representatives, and two presidential candidates. And nothing I’ve experienced or witnessed in real life comes close to the fiction of “House of Cards” or “The Boss”- nothing!

My concern is some people will think the shows captured political reality. No, not true. They are fictional not factual. But in today’s sordid political environment, the great unwashed will think they represent politics as it is.

“Damages,” which featured Glenn Close, is about a super NYC lawyer named Patty Hewes. It ran five years and 59 episodes. She was 59 when “Damages” premiered, 64 when it ended.

One of my favorite actors, Ms. Close is a tall, strikingly beautiful blonde, with glorious dimples and strong jaw – and is totally believable in her role as Patty Hewes, a highly ruthless and unprincipled attorney; saved only by the target of her multi-billion dollar law suit against the show’s chief villain, Arthur Frosbisher, as played by Ted Danson (“Damages” is not “Cheers”).

As to the degree of reality it bears to real life lawyers, probably as close as the characters in “House of Cards” and “The Boss” represent to real life politicians.

The last two shows, “The Fall” and “Crossing Lines,” are about crime and punishment, but mostly about evil – at a deep and dark level.

While the other three are outrageously overdrawn, the hard truth here, the story lines are credible because there is real evil in our world.

“The Fall,” a BBC production starring Gillian Anderson, who plays Stella Gibson, a supervising detective from Scotland Yards, on loan to police in Belfast, her assignment is to find a serial killer, Paul Spector, ably played by Jamie Dornan.

The entire 12-episodes revolve around Gibson attempting to identify and catch Spector, the sociopath serial killer, which she does in the show’s final 90-minutes, as Spector is shot by a deranged Irish bully and lies dying, as Gibson cries out, “We’re losing him, we’re losing him!,” as the show fades to black.

I thought the story line was brilliantly conceived and performed, save for the last scene, which left me disappointed, but “The Fall” completely captured me, because Gillian Anderson was fantastic as Stella Gibson.

Lastly, before I began watching “Crossing Lines”, I knew nothing about it, but the presence of Donald Sutherland, as one of its lead characters, drew me in. He is a superb actor, usually on the side of evil, but here he’s on side of good, as he heads the International Court of Criminal Inquiry (ICC).

The ICC is a police agency that investigates cross border crimes in countries of the European Union (EU). As a results the scenery alone, winter and fall, mostly, is nothing but spectacular – lots of helicopter shots of Paris, Berlin, Rome, Sofia, Prague, London, Belgium, the Netherlands, and French Rivera.

When you add to the scenery the brilliantly conceived story lines; stories that cause me to wonder, who thinks these up? Really, who?

I have long understood there are people in the world smarter than me, with a brilliance I am challenged to comprehend; which is my overwhelming take-away from “Crossing Lines,” because the show’s writers are ingenious – a genius reflected in their stories, completely believable in today’s world (or, have you forgotten the massacre at Charlie Hebdo?).

There is evil in our world. We ignore it at our peril.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached by email,

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