Bestselling African American Dramas & Plays in 2020
Black Theatre, USA: Plays by African Americans: The Recent Period, 1935-Today
- Used Book in Good Condition
Contemporary Plays by African American Women: Ten Complete Works
Positive African American Plays For Children Book 2: Build High Self-Esteem and Confidence Through Plays
A Mother's Prayer/When the Lights Go Out
- Factory sealed DVD
- Great product!
Reno and Trina: Love On the Rocks
Five On The Black Hand Side
Stage Plays Double Feature (Soul Kittens Cabaret, Bachelor Party)
- Factory sealed DVD
Where Children Play
The Methuen Drama Book of Post-black Plays (Play Anthologies)
- Used Book in Good Condition
Netflix This: Wiseguy
Wiseguy is one of the best crime dramas of all time. And three of its four essential "arcs" are available at Netflix.
Wiseguy peaked in its first season, as any fan will admit. Thankfully, Netflix has both arcs available. The first one introduces us to Vinnie, tells how he joined the FBI and gives him his first undercover assignment, which is getting close to Mafia big shot Sonny Steelgrave. If you've seen Donnie Brasco you'll find yourself wondering why that movie was ever even made; Wiseguy did it first and so much better. The tension in this Wiseguy arc doesn't stem from wondering whether the undercover agent's cover will get blown; the stakes are much higher. You may find yourself experiencing a little discomfort as Vinnie begins to develop a much closer relationship with his target than he does with his boss, Frank. But that's in keeping with the whole weird dichotomy of the undercover agent. I haven't rented the Netflix version but it is my understanding that a crucial element is missing from the final episode of this particular arc, which had pitted Sonny against Vinnie after his identity is revealed pitched to the soundtrack of "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues. There are elements of homosexual attraction, brotherly love and Jesus/Judas all going on during the long sequence in which the song played. I can't imagine any other song effectively replacing it, so I hope that is just a rumor.
Even better, in my opinion, is the next arc in which Vinnie infiltrates the operations of an incestuous brother and sister arms dealer. This is available on Netflix and it features what was for many their introduction to a then-little known actor who played the brother: Kevin Spacey. All the brilliance that is Kevin Spacey at his level best is on display here, from his quick witted responses to his unique phrasing of words to a dead-on imitation of Marlon Brando. As an example of how far above the crime drama pack Wiseguy is, Spacey's character in this arc is a man who justifies his role in the underbelly of global economics by referencing the theories of Thomas Malthus. Malthusian economics rests on the core conviction that population growth will always be exponentially faster than the growth of the natural resources necessary to keep their bellies full; therefore things like war, famine, and crime are necessary to keep population growth from exploding to the point that half the world dies from hunger. When's the last time you heard Thomas Malthus mentioned in one of those "serious" Oscar-winning movies? I must rent this because I have never actually seen the finale. The first time it was actually pre-empted-I kid you know, my local television show actually did pre-empt the finale episode of a long-running serial story-for a Billy Graham revival. The second time it aired we were having a storm and the electricity went out! Can you believe that bad luck. By the way, this is the arc that also features the amazing William Russ as Roger Lococo, Buckwheat, so don't miss it!
The third essential Wiseguy arc available at Netflix is a bit of an anomaly. Ken Wahl suffered some kind of off-set injury and couldn't work so they brought in Anthony Denison to play another undercover agent. But forget him, this arc is about three stunning performances in a story about the rag trade in New York City. This is the performance that saw Ron Silver transform the universe from one in which he was a second rate Al Pacino into one in which Al Pacino became a second rate Ron Silver. Silver's performance in this Wiseguy arc is nothing short of amazing. And he is matched at every step by Jerry Lewis, who proves that it wasn't just Martin Scorsese's direction that was responsible for his grievously overlooked dramatic performance in The King of Comedy. The third element in this trio of fine performances is that of the always great Stanley Tucci as mobster Rick Pinzolo. Yeah, that's right, the scary mobster in this Wiseguy arc is played by the same guy who played the gay designer in The Devil Wears Prada. What an actor!
Probably the weirdest thing about Wiseguy--aside from the truly surreal Mr. Sardonicus arc late in the series run--is that probably no other television show in history has ever been as critically acclaimed despite having a star that is its biggest drawback. I'm not sure whether it's because Ken Wahl just isn't a particularly expressive actor or because the part requires that he must always be holding back more than the other characters. There's no question that all the villains--including the guy in the Mr. Sardonicus arc--outacts him, but then again the villains were always had the benefit of being written with more depth. (In the case of Kevin Spacey, of course, one gets the feeling that his character grew in importance and depth each week as the writers realized what a volcanic talent they lucked into.) I think it's a combination of both because in the music industry arc that you can't get on Netflix, the writers finally lightened the angst that Vinnie was operating under and allowed Ken Wahl to have fun playing him for the first and only time. Oh yeah, there is one other weird aspect of Wiseguy. Although a crime drama, most of the villains Vinnie went undercover to get never actually got arrested.
Wiseguy still stands as proof that crime dramas can be just as interesting when it's about characters as it is about flashing stylistic framing of crime scene investigation techniques and procedures. Hell, Wiseguy proves that a crime drama with dimensional characters is far more interesting than what passes for crime drama today. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself over to Netflix, Buckwheat, and queue up Wiseguy. And while you're at it, ask why they don't have the music industry featuring a surprisingly hilarious performance by former Eagle Glenn Frey.