Robert F. Chew, a 52-year-old Baltimore actor and teacher who portrayed one of television’s most unforgettable characters as Proposition Joe on HBO’s “The Wire,” died Thursday of apparent heart failure in his sleep at his home in Northeast Baltimore, according to Clarice Chews, his sister.
Mr. Chew, who appeared in “Homicide” and “the Corner,” as well as “The Wire,” also taught and mentored child and young adult actors at Baltimore’s Arena Players, a troupe he stayed with as his television career blossomed through his work with David Simon. Through the Areana Players Youth Theatre, he brought new talent to the attention of casting directors and coached the team of young actors who played students in the Baltimore City School system in Season 4 of “The Wire.”
“Robert was not only an exceptional actor, he was an essential part of the film and theater community in Baltimore,” David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire’ said in an email Friday. “He could have gone to New York or Los Angeles and commanded a lot more work, but he loved the city as his home and chose to remain here working. He understood so much about his craft that it was no surprise at all that we would go to him to coach our young actors in season four. He was the conduit through which they internalized their remarkable performances.”
Chew was an absolute master with dialogue and facial expressions, and it’s fascinating to learn in this article that many of the kids who starred in Season 4 of “The Wire” were his students. If you haven’t seen this show, get the DVD or download it now. You won’t regret it.
Hey, kids, remember “The Goode Family”? You don’t…? Boy, that’s funny. You’d think you’d remember an animated series created under the watchful eye of Mike Judge, the man behind “Beavis & Butthead” and “King of the Hill,” not to mention such cult-classic films as “Office Space,” “Idiocracy,” and “Extract.”
Oh, wait, I know why you don’t remember it: because it only ran for 13 episodes in the summer of 2009 before ABC axed it.
Thankfully, however, the fine folks at Shout Factory have come through for “Goode Family” fans in the same way they’ve come through for fans of so many other too-quickly-canceled series over the years, offering up a complete-series set which features all of the episodes, including audio commentary from executive producers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky on several of them, as well as deleted scenes and premises for unproduced episodes. Even better, the aforementioned Mr. Altschuler was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with Bullz-Eye to discuss the series, not to mention some of the other projects he’s worked on over the course of his career.
John Altschuler: So, Will, what can I do you for?
Bullz-Eye: Well, sir, I do this TV column for Bullz-Eye, I’ve more or less got carte blanche to cover what I want, and, dammit, I want to cover the DVD release of The Goode Family: The Complete Series.
JA: [Laughs.] Well, great…I hope!
BE: It is absolutely great. I was a fan for the all-too-few episodes that aired, so it’s been nice not only to revisit the series as a whole but also to listen to the commentaries that you and Dave recorded for the set.
JA: Excellent, excellent. Well, I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, personally, but I hope it wasn’t too bad for you.
BE: No, no, not painful at all.
JA: Well, good!
BE: So to begin at the beginning, as it were, you and Dave actually knew each other well before you first met up with Mike Judge on “King of the Hill.”
JA: That’s right. Dave Krinsky and I go back to…we went to the University of North Carolina together and moved out to L.A…wow, back in ’87! And we just did movies and TV for, y’know, forever, and got hired on “King of the Hill” in its first season, and that’s how we met Mike Judge.
I can still remember the first time I watched “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” about the so-called West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers – Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley – who in 1993 were accused of the murder and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Maybe Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley weren’t the most clean-cut teens imaginable, but watching the sad but undeniably enthralling “Paradise Lost,” it’s pretty easy to believe that their imprisonment was unjust, a case of the justice system gone horribly wrong.
Indeed, I was sufficiently affected by it that I continued to keep tabs on the case over the years, right up through when Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley were finally released after almost 20 years behind bars. Similarly, directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the gentlemen behind the camera for “Paradise Lost,” continued to follow the saga of the West Memphis Three, resulting in two sequels, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.”
The whole trilogy has just been released in a four-disc set – one for each film, plus an extra disc of bonus material – and upon receiving a review copy, I was pitched an interview with Berlinger. At first, I hesitated, thinking, “Geez, do I have any place to run this?” Then I realized, “Hello, technicality: all three films made their debut on HBO, so I’m calling in a loophole and putting this baby in ‘The Light from the TV Shows’!” The next thing you know, I’m on the phone with Mr. Berlinger, having the chat that sits before you now. Read on…
Bullz-Eye: I should probably start by telling you that I’ve just spent a fair amount of the preceding 24 hours plowing through the new “Paradise Lost Trilogy” set.
Joe Berlinger: Oh, my God. Watching it in one fell swoop…
BE: Yeah, I said on Facebook, “This is a whole lot of depressing footage to watch and know that you’re only going to get a semi-happy ending in the end.”
JB: Yeah, I know. Imagine me living it! [Laughs.] At least I spread it out over two decades. But to pile it all on like that…I’m actually curious: how does it feel watching one after another? Does it feel repetitive?
BE: No, it doesn’t. [Hesitates.] Well, okay, there are moments, I guess. But they’re acceptable knowing the fact that each one was made several years after the next.
JB: Okay, so it holds up as a trilogy, watching one after another?
Those with a soft spot for Australian soap operas may forever think of Melissa George as Angel from “Home and Away,” but they’re doing both her and themselves a disservice by maintaining that mindset, because George has handily proven over and over again that she’s a far cry from being just another soap opera actress, be it by her Golden Globe nominated performance on HBO’s “In Treatment,” her work with David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”) and Steven Soderbergh (“The Limey”), or her despicable turn as Lauren Reed on ABC’s “Alias.” With her latest small-screen endeavor, Cinemax’s “Hunted,” George is returning to the spy side of things, but trust Bullz-Eye when we tell you that “Hunted” is on a completely different level of television than “Alias.” We talked to her in conjunction with the series’ premiere – 10 PM tonight and every Friday night for the next several weeks – while also quizzing her about a few other past endeavors, including working with Heath Ledger on “Roar,” getting the shaft on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and just barely missing out on being part of one of the most notorious sitcom flops in NBC history.
Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Hunted”? Was it an audition situation, or did they come looking for you specifically?
Melissa George: They were very strict about making people read. Some jobs, not so much, they know who they want. But “Hunted” is (being produced by) HBO and BBC together, and they were both having to choose and decide, so we had the English with the Americans, so that’s why the audition process was so long.
I was walking on the West Side Highway in New York, and my phone rang. It was my agent saying, “I’ve just read the most dynamic role for a woman, it’s as complex as what you played on ‘In Treatment,’ with a bit of action, which you’ve done before. It’s shooting in Europe, it’s really good, it’s written by Frank Spotnitz, it’s an English and American production…you’ve got to get it.” That’s kind of what he said. And I hate when they say that, ‘cause that means no sleep for me. Because, y’know, of course if it’s that great I want to play it. And I was then shooting a movie with Julia Stiles in Los Angeles (“Between Us”) and I was busy with that, and I had a video camera set up in the hotel room, and I put together a scene. They asked me to do three scenes, but I just did one. It was the one where she confronts her ex in the apartment. Very emotional. And I remember I was just so choked up…and I was recording myself, not speaking to anybody, because I didn’t have an actor reading with me. And I was, like, “Oh, my God, I really love this part…” And I cut, printed, and sent it. I couldn’t do any more scenes because I was really upset. I felt really strongly about this woman. And I waited. I didn’t care, because I was shooting a movie.
Then I got a call saying, “They want you to meet with Frank and read a scene.” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” There were so many freaking people in this room. [Laughs.] So many people! I thought it was just going to be me. Every actor thinks that when you’re asked to read, it’s just gonna be you. But it was a lot of people, and I was on my own. But I met Frank, and he said to me later on, once I’d gotten the role, that he knew from when I put myself on tape, and when I went in to read, he said, “I just feel really connected to her.” But that was it. I didn’t hear for awhile after that, so I was, like, “Ugh, this is gonna be one of those jobs…” And then S.J. (Clarkson), who’s directing, got onboard, and…the director has a big say, so Frank’s got his choice made, BBC and HBO made theirs, but now I have to wait for S.J. to make hers. So I had to meet her. They fly me from New York to L.A. to have lunch, and all we do is talk about film, and then…I was the only girl, but I had to read with lots of guys. And none of the guys I read with got it. [Laughs.] But I was the only girl they were using, and yet still hadn’t told me that I’d got it! And I was, like, “What’s going on here?”
But I was so convinced that I was onboard that I went around convincing everyone else around me that I was. I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be playing this role in a few months…” But I hadn’t heard anything, and I was going, “This is ridiculous! They’re going all over the world looking for this actress, every single country, and I’m, like, “Well, does she have to be from a particular place?” “No, they don’t care where she’s from, because she has to play so many nationalities, so many different languages and accents.” So I waited while they went around the globe, reading hundreds of girls, and they were losing me, because I was going, “Well, if they wait too long…” And then finally everyone was, like, “C’mon, S.J.!” So that’s the story. And it was so funny on set, because while we were filming in Morocco, S.J. would come up to me and speak French, then she’d say, “Oh, sorry, wrong actress.” Like she’d found a girl in France that she really liked. I was, like, “Shut up, I know you didn’t find anybody!” [Laughs.] It was one of those things where the joke went on forever. Like, the whole season of the show. “Sorry, what’s your name?” So I don’t quite know what happened that made it take so long to decide, but I know that when I seize on something, man, I’d better get the job. Because I was honestly delusional. I was, like, “Yes, I’m shooting London in a few months,” and everyone was, like, “But have they said ‘yes’?” “No. But I’m going to be shooting!”
The WIGS channel on YouTube could unkindly be called the online equivalent of television’s Lifetime network, specializing in stories of the lives of women that are, ironically, primarily created by men. The first of these web series is “Jan,” created, written and directed by Jon Avnet, who is probably best known for producing hit ’80s and ’90s films like “Risky Business” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” the latter of which he also directed. Like the superior “Blue,” “Jan” is simply named after its lead character, Jan (Caitlin Gerard), an aspiring photographer who has just gotten what might be her big break, so long as her life doesn’t get in the way.
Jan works as an assistant to Mel (Virginia Madsen), an established photographer whose latest project is a book called “Afterglow,” which is a collection of shots of women immediately after the completion of sexual encounters. The first session features British movie star couple Gery (Stephen Moyer, best known as Bill Compton on HBO’s “True Blood”) and Andie (Jaime Murray, best known as Lila Tournay on the second season of Showtime’s “Dexter”). Gery seems to immediately like Jan and, when Mel is preoccupied with a phone call at the crucial moment, he convinces her to take the shots instead, which leads to Jan being fired. Luckily for her, deadline pressures from the magazine Mel works for causes her to rehire Jan, though Mel takes the credit for the photographs and warns Jan that she is on thin ice.
Jan also has a junkie boyfriend, Robbie (Kyle Gallner), who is constantly pestering her and her roommate, Vanessa (Laura Spencer), and complicating their lives. This subplot should make the series more interesting, but what it mainly does instead is make everything feel less focused. The tone of the entire series is very uneven, and quirks like Jan’s initial clumsiness and her habit of getting the hiccups when she’s nervous come and go without ever really going anywhere interesting. Likewise, the late addition of a new boyfriend for Jan feels inconsequential and tacked on, despite the conflict it would seem likely to create with Robbie, the ex, and Gery, who flirts openly with Jan and drops by her place to take showers (another contrived quirk that feels less than genuine). All in all, the stakes are never really high enough, nor is Jan a compelling enough character to make this series particularly worthwhile. Check out “Blue” instead, if you want to see what the WIGS channel is like.