Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

Of all the childhood icons who preceded Kermit the Frog of Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers stands out as the blandest yet most durable representative of good manners. In her deferential article for the New York Times – Please Won’t You Be My Inspiration? – Kristin Hohenadel documents MTV (Music Television) Benjamin Wagner’s memories and experiences with the famous children’s television pioneer. A new film produced for PBS (Public Broadcasting) reveals Mr. Rogers’ impact on a generation.

I remember preferring Captain Kangaroo and his antics with Mr. Green Jeans to the slow methodical pace of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, but many fans still remember that red sweater – now in the Smithsonian next to Seinfeld’s puffy shirt. Evidently, Mr. Rogers was as he seemed – or at least always in character; when Wagner met him on a Nantucket vacation and he was his actual, not virtual neighbor. Mr. Rogers offered his career wisdom to a then young Wagner, “trying to figure out who he {wanted to be} when he grew up”…

“I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than deep and complex.”

Mr. Rogers probably would not survive on a television show today, maybe becoming a target for ridicule (aka Eddie Murphy’s Mr. Robinson on Saturday Night Live), but he remains the comfortable untarnished icon of yesteryear – like a good old black and white silent film. They’re coming back in popularity, by the way.

Full episodes of Mr. Rogers’ old shows and that familiar tune are still available on the PBS Kids website.

Do you remember Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood?

Downton Abbey – How I Will Miss You

The season finale may have aired in Britain, but Downton Abbey offers a reprieve for its American fans by airing the 2011 Christmas Day special as the last season episode tonight on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).   Robert Bianco notes in ‘Downton Abbey’ Provides a Satisfying Sendoff  for USA Today that…

“We’ve grown accustomed to finding a weekly safe harbor where civility is still a goal, formality is not a crime, and even the worst behavior is cloaked in good manners…”

And a few more deliciously witty quips from Maggie Smith: “You’ll find there’s never a dull moment in this house…” before the family drama takes a sabbatical.

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Downton Abbey

With Season two of the highly praised PBS clone of “Upstairs/Downstairs” coming in January, it was time to catch up.  By the time I’d heard about the “Downton Abbey” series’ first season, it was gone.  But I found the three disk DVD set in the library, and watched them all on one rainy day.  Now I’m ready for more of Maggie Smith’s clever quips as the Dowager Countess…

“I couldn’t have electricity in the house. I wouldn’t sleep a wink.  All those vapors floating about.”

PBS is beginning the weekly airings again Sunday nights in December, but it will be easier to watch those reruns now that I know the resolution to the cliffhanger at the end of each.

Season 2 cannot come soon enough –  I can’t wait to see if Lady Mary will finally marry, and what William will do to sabotage the war effort.  At last, a soap opera with class.

Masterpiece Contemporary Theater

With over a hundred channels available, I still find it hard to find something to watch on television – one of the reasons I read more than watch.  By sheer luck, I stumbled onto the PBS Masterpiece Contemporary airing of “Page Eight” – a spy thriller starring veteran actors Bill Nighy and Judy Davis as British spies, Michael Gambon as the frumpy head of M15, Ralph Fiennes as the unprincipled Prime Minister, and Rachel Weisz as the mysterious beautiful collaborator.

A screenplay rejected for the movies for its lack of violence and sex, Page Eight offers film noir fans an intelligent and suspenseful British version of corrupt politicians and civilized spies.   PBS Masterpiece Theater raises the bar for contemporary drama in short doses.

If you missed this one, look for the rerun or the DVD.  More are coming.  Put down the book for a few hours, and enjoy.

The PBS Masterpiece Schedule