Friday, October 22, 2010


For S and G's here is my review of a BBC single season wonder:

Bonekickers (BBC, 2008)
Original broadcasts July-August 2008. Available for rent or purchase.

One thing I love about British television programming is brevity. A season will last from six to thirteen episodes and is done. A series lasts just as long as it takes to tell the story, and is done, even if it lasts only a single season, six episodes long. Even the very best follow this pattern: “Mulberry” went two seasons, totaling thirteen episodes; “Coupling,” by far one of the funniest situation comedies of the past twenty years (and not to be confused with the pitiful line for line American copy) went four seasons; the Occult drama “Hex” had its story told in two. Even the exceptions prove the rule -- “Doctor Who” prepares for its sixth season but with its third doctor since the new millennium reboot.

These shows finish leaving you wanting more. For some, like “The Bonekickers,” one season is quite enough.

This series was created by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah, the team that gave us the outstanding “Life on Mars” (two seasons, twelve episodes total). Archaeology professor Mark Horton from Bristol University acted as consultant, helping give the program its air of authenticity.

“Bonekickers” has a six episode arc that clearly was intended to be self-contained. The series follows the exploits of a quartet of archaeologists from fictional Wessex University who solve puzzles with the care of a CSI team and the gusto of Indiana Jones. Not even Jones himself would believe that archaeology could be so bloody dangerous and exciting, particularly in locations like Bristol.

Dr. Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham) leads the troupe, with Dr. Ben Ergha (Adrian Lester), a former classmate at college and lover, and Professor Gregory “Dolly” Parton (Hugh Bonneville) her main scholastic allies, and young Viv Davis (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) their apprentice. For comic relief, Michael Maloney plays Daniel Mastiff, the boss you love to hate. The characters are interesting but fairly one-dimensional, and we see very little personal growth in any of them during the course of the series. The one exception is Bonneville’s Professor Parton, who comes to us already complete and almost anachronistic, a throwback to that Indy Jones brand of adventurer caught in the modern world.

But adventures abound. The subject of each episode is itself fascinating and filled with potential. In order, the archaeologists uncover, and then fight to preserve, the Knights Templar’s greatest treasure; the legacy of escaped New World slaves called the Maroons; the true story of the death of Warrior Queen Boudicca; the prophesies of the Babylonian God Marduk; and the resting place of Joan of Arc. Each time someone sinister wants to stop them. Crimes, including murder, ensue. Each time they acquire great knowledge but usually lose what they are after.

Gillian is on an underlying quest for a specific sword. In her pursuit, she shows herself to be hard, belligerent, driven, and often hubristic. This makes her at once interesting yet not wholly sympathetic, a difficult and real person. But we stop there. She is no different at the end of her quest than she was when we first met her. We learn about the complex relationships between the characters, which lend an almost soap opera quality to the proceedings, and we are presented with an array of interesting and likewise driven guest characters from episode to episode -- in fact, things move quickly enough throughout the program that all we are left thinking about is how cleverly all these artifacts and bones link together, first within the framework of each episode, and then in the totality as summed up in episode six.

At least they didn’t leave us hanging. With pointed references to Gillian’s quest for the sword appearing in every episode, in the finale she manages to solve the riddle and attain her prize, if only temporarily -- Excalibur. The clues fit neatly together, while the possible implications of finding that sword lead to a heated and dangerous conclusion of the series. The ending is satisfying up to a point. I still don’t know why Gillian . . . Well, maybe you should see for yourself.

My favorite character in the show rarely had much to do but strut and translate. But in the finale he got to shine at last. Hugh Bonneville’s raspy voice was perfect as his “Dolly” Parton got to utter the best line in the program: “Don’t mess with me, I’m an archaeologist!”

“Bonekickers” is definitely not a great series. The characters never fully develop and each episode seems to struggle to create a neat, believable ending. But the subjects explored by the archaeologists -- Christ, the Maroons, Boudicca, Marduk, Joan of Arc and Excalibur, are all captivating, while the level of danger and potential impact the characters face each week make these episodes a guilty pleasure -- sort of like watching Robert Langdon decipher the Da Vinci Code, only this quartet of explorers show genuine passion for what they do, and that alone is fun to watch.

"The Wrecking Crew"

"The Wrecking Crew" is a film by Denny Tedesco documenting his father's career. On October 16 I got to see it, thanks to my brothers Paul and David. I wrote the following review for and wanted to share it with you all.

The Wrecking Crew, a Documentary by Denny Tedesco (2010)

You probably have never heard of them, but if you’re my age or if you have ever listened to any music from the 1960’s or 70s, I guarantee you’ve heard them play. As Los Angeles became the center of the recording scene for everything except Country, The Wrecking Crew were the consummate studio musicians who helped create hit record after hit record, from Elvis to the Beach Boys to the Mamas and the Papas to Herb Alpert to Sonny and Cher to Frank and Nancy Sinatra.

It was an era in which stars and their bands were not always good enough to make a record special, and studio musicians were called upon to turn a good song into a sonic treasure. Cost was also a factor: the actual band might take days or weeks to get a song just right for album release, while the studio musicians routinely did it in hours. It was a special window of time perfectly suited for this one steady core mix of talent.

An eclectic group of brilliant musicians who could sight-read anybody’s composition, master it, improve it where necessary, and turn in a finished track within three hours, these guys and gals might play for Sinatra in the morning, do the sound track for Hawaii Five-0 after lunch, then move in to tackle one of Brian Wilson’s increasingly sophisticated and complicated musical ideas -- too demanding for the touring Beach Boys themselves -- before dinner, then play to exhaustion to create Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” before calling it a night.

It is said that drummer Hal Blaine is the most recorded drummer in music history, and that Tommy Tedesco holds the same honor among guitarists. No matter what genre, if you wanted a specific sound, Tommy Tedesco would find it. Bass guitarist Carol Kaye could take a simple riff and turn it into something unforgettable -- for example, she tweaked the very simple base line for Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” and gave a flat, lifeless underscoring genuine snap. Add a wealth of musicians numbering twenty or more at any given time, including drummer Earl Palmer, guitarists Billy Strange and Glen Campbell, and bassists Larry Knetchel and Joe Osborne, and you have The Wrecking Crew.

They got their name when they first showed up for work. The studio musicians there all wore ties and jackets and “looked” professional. These new guys came in with scraggly hair, wearing T-shirts, and dangling cigarettes from their lips. One of the other guys said, “You’re gonna wreck the music business.” Hal Blaine then said, “That’s us. The wrecking crew.”

Tommy Tedesco’s son Denny has spent the last fourteen years building a loving, honest tribute to his dad and fellow musicians of The Wrecking Crew. It has taken all that time to get releases from the various music studios for whom they recorded, so Denny could include the 130 examples of their work in the film. When asked why he didn’t just cut down the number of songs, Denny replied, “Because that’s the point. They played everything.”

By 1980 a new breed of singer-songwriter emerged on the music scene. New bands appeared who not only wanted to play their own stuff, they had the skill needed to do so effectively. Studio musicians became redundant. But, as several of them comment, it was a great ride.

You won’t find “The Wrecking Crew” at your local art house theater or even on DVD yet. Tedesco is still raising money to pay off the last of the studios for permission to play those songs, and money to finance the DVD release. He’s about $250,000 shy as I write this -- pocket change in today’s music industry. This means he is unable to show this film in commercial outlets, so he has been airing it at film festivals, where it has won numerous awards, and in private non-profit venues. I got to see it, along with about 200 others, at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where it was presented as one of the Center’s “Night at the Museum” series of events.

For me it was a wonderful evening filled with nostalgia, fun, and great humor. The members of The Wrecking Crew loved what they did, yet has a great sense of humor about themselves, and it shows in every frame of the 95 minute film.

Carefully edited and honestly told, this is the story of the musicians who created the soundtrack of my generation. They were paid handsomely for it and got to do what they loved. And even if they weren’t credited on those albums, this film shouts their names with joy.

For more information on The Wrecking Crew, visit the website:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Checking In

Hello to all my friends out in the eather! It has been a long while since I blogged last, and I apologize. Many of you already know why I have remained quiet for the last several weeks, and now is not the time to launch into some sort of tirade or bitter self-flagellation. The horizon is still far away, but I have seen it and know I am moving in the right direction, and that is all I feel the need to say at the moment.

I do have a few words of wisdom to impart, They are not my words. They belong to a Chinese philosopger named Mo Tsu, who predates Lao Tsu, credited with being the center of the Taoist movement. My eldest rightly points out that Mo Tsu's words apply to an ideal and unattainable reality, not ours. Still, if each of us could live them, well, ah, the idealist in me still dreams.

In response to the criticism that "All embracing love is fine enough, but it is hard to apply where it counts," Mo Tsu answered:

"The world's leaders have no idea what is for their own profit . . . Those who love others will be loved in return. Do good to others and others will do good to you. Hate people and be hated by them. Hurt them and they will hurt you. What is hard about that?"