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Monday, November 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Finding Mrs. Claus wallows in Christmastime greed and lust
It's a less-than-wonderful life
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The movie embraces 21st-century cynicism.
The movie embraces 21st-century cynicism.

Our cynical age will never be able to turn out a convincing movie about a Christmas miracle, like It's a Wonderful Life. Filmmakers keep trying, though, especially in December TV movies. It's refreshing that Finding Mrs. Claus (Sunday, 8 p.m., Lifetime) declines to play this losing game, instead embracing 21st-century cynicism. This is a comic tale of Christmastime greed, lust and phoniness, set - where else - in Las Vegas.

Mrs. Claus (Mira Sorvino), who's estranged from Santa (Will Sasso), comes to Sin City to help a lonely single mother (Laura Vandervoort) find true love. Sorvino is hilarious as a pure-hearted North Pole denizen who's clueless about the sleazy world she's landed in. "Who here is single and looking for love?" she sweetly asks a group of guys in a casino, not realizing that this question could be taken the wrong way.

While Finding Mrs. Claus works as a naughty satire, it also has a heart, thanks to Vandervoort. She communicates real decency, even in this corrupt setting. That's about as close to a Christmas miracle as we're going to get in a contemporary movie.

Be the Boss
Sunday, 9 pm (A&E)

The creators of Undercover Boss premiere a reality competition that focuses on ambitious employees. Each week, two of them vie for a promotion, learning only at the end that the winner will be granted ownership of a new franchise. In the pilot, employees Ashley and Jason are run through a series of entrepreneurial challenges by the Complete Nutrition chain.

I'm worried that, with its ultra-competitive approach, Be the Boss will select for really creepy winners. Ashley and Jason are encouraged to ridicule and undermine one another. They must display over-the-top arrogance to gain Complete Nutrition's approval. And they're forced to submit to random orders, like showing up for an early-morning target-shooting session for no apparent reason.

What kind of monster emerges as the victor in a contest like this? I predict a spinoff series called Legal Methods for Getting Rid of Your Psycho Franchise Owner.

Leverage
Tuesday, 7 pm (TNT)

The team of do-gooding grifters are accustomed to setting up elaborate con games to save the day for a client. This week they go even further, attempting to change a bad guy to a good guy by messing with his mind.

A onetime benevolent factory owner has inexplicably turned evil. At the request of an employee, Nate (Timothy Hutton) and his crew take great pains to convince him that he's dreaming. That way, they can lead him through a virtual-reality landscape and get to the bottom of his psychological problem.

Granted, this plotline is pretty extreme. In its fifth season, Leverage has decided to go for baroque. Still, the episode works. The filmmakers hook you with the concept and work it out beautifully over the course of the hour, avoiding the pitfall of pretentiousness.

Extremism in the defense of entertainment is no vice.

Million Dollar Decorators
Tuesday, 9 pm (Bravo)

In season two, the show's high-end interior decorators prove themselves to be among TV's most enjoyably despicable reality subjects. They make snobby pronouncements like: "Glamour is everything!" They talk about themselves in messianic terms, even though their jobs basically come down to choosing between shades of wallpaper.

"I don't follow the trends," brags Jeffrey, "I set them!"

Million Dollar Decorators proves that glamour isn't everything. Humility - conspicuous by its absence here - counts for something, too.

The Hour
Wednesday, 8 pm (BBC America)

This British series rivals Mad Men as a period gem. The new season begins in 1957, amid talk of Sputnik and Mario Lanza. The setting is a TV news operation that produces "The Hour," featuring a popular but unreliable anchor (Dominic West). Producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) rides herd on him, while new network bureaucrat Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi) rides herd on her. Brown insists that the program has lost its "tingle."

The Hour revels in its time and place. It evokes 1950s England with a slinky jazz and rockabilly soundtrack, a rich palette and clouds of cigarette smoke. The costume department indulges in silky elbow-length gloves and mink stoles, not to mention stunning office wear for Garai. Speaking of whom: Why doesn't this wonderful British actress (Emma, Atonement) have Kate Winslet-scale stardom?

As far as I'm concerned, The Hour has lost none of its tingle.

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