HBO pays tribute to pianist; 'Arrested' is freed

HBO's star-studded "Behind the Candelabra" explores the tumultuous relationship between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).
HBO's star-studded "Behind the Candelabra" explores the tumultuous relationship between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).
Posted: May 24, 2013

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. All 15 new episodes available Sunday on Netflix.

THE SURPRISE IN "Behind the Candelabra," HBO's new movie about the late Liberace and his onetime lover, Scott Thorson, isn't that Michael Douglas and Matt Damon pull off roles in which each is cast against type.

They are actors.

But while the flamboyantly closeted Liberace was never as convincingly straight as, say, Rock Hudson - now there's an actor underappreciated in his time - the pianist also lived when acknowledging whom he loved (or used), simply wasn't an option.

And so the shocker in "Behind the Candelabra," set in a period that only now feels like the Dark Ages, is that it seems so dated.

With gay marriage becoming a reality in more and more places, it's hard not to wonder if things wouldn't have been different for these two pretty crazy people if that had been possible.

Thorson, whose $113 million suit against his ex was settled for a relative pittance, might at least have done better in a divorce.

"We take the relationship seriously," director Steven Soderbergh told reporters in January. That - along with a scene-stealing performance by Rob Lowe as a plastic surgeon - slightly elevates the story above rehashed gossip, but it's also what makes it suspect. Because Thorson, on whose 1988 book the movie is based, may not be the most reliable witness. (He recently spoke with the New York Times from the jail where he'd been held since February on burglary and identity theft charges.)

Liberace, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1987, can't tell us if he loved Thorson more than the others. Like Phil Spector and Jack Kevorkian, also the subjects of HBO films, he remains elusive.

"Candelabra" shines a light on things that might have occurred, but it never quite illuminates them.

'Arrested' expanded

Netflix should post a recording of yesterday's media conference call with "Arrested Development" creator Mitch Hurwitz as a bonus when 15 new episodes of the series begin streaming to subscribers at 3:01 a.m. Sunday.

The call was a comedy in itself, as Hurwitz and "Arrested" stars Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor had their reminiscences repeatedly cut off by a conference moderator determined to make the trains run on time.

Time's less of an issue to Netflix than it was to Fox, where the series ran from 2003-06. Not only won't the new episodes have to leave room for commercials - they won't even have to fit into the traditional half-hour.

"The first couple of episodes, I really labored to make under 30 minutes, and then finally I had a talk with Ted Sarandos [Netflix's chief content officer] and he said, 'No, we never said under 30 minutes.' So that just saved me weeks," Hurwitz said, laughing.

What was envisioned as nine new episodes that would catch fans up on the dysfunctional Bluth family became 10 and then 14 and ultimately 15.

This, I suggested to Hurwitz, wasn't the way it worked on TV (cuts in Fox's episode order became an inside joke on the show).

Netflix, he said, seemed interested in more content, not less.

So while "I wanted to be somewhat responsible," an episode might run 35 minutes. (The one I've seen, after agreeing not to publish anything resembling a review until the show goes online, ran a bit over 32 minutes.)

As for the growing number of episodes, "I will say that early on, I'd been worried: What if there's not enough material?" he said.

As it turned out, "the average script for these kinds of things is about 26 pages, and I think I'd gotten to Page 50 and I hadn't gotten to the halfway point of one of the shows. So I was in a bit of a panic. And I did call Ted Sarandos and he said, 'Well, we'll take more,'" Hurwitz said.

"It really was dictated by the story," he said. "We had set out this whole story we wanted to tell and sort of my initial idea was, 'Well, we have nine characters, we'll do nine episodes.' But there were all sorts of things in the story that just transcended one episode."

(An expanded version of this report is on EllenGray.tv.)


Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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