Netflix just keeps churning out one great series after another; and that’s probably a good thing given the Kevin Spacey debacle that overnight destroyed the brand of House of Cards. They’ve just launched a new 7 part series called Godless that takes place in the old west in the 1880’s in a mining community that has been depleted of men owing to an underground explosion. But the real story is about a marauding gang of killers led by a bible-spewing maniacal killer named Frank Griffin, played by a completely unrecognizable Jeff Daniels. Which got me thinking about actors’ remarkable ability to play any kind of role. Here’s Daniels whose screen image is generally a nice guy as in Purple Rose of Cairo, or an idealist as in the TV series the Newsroom; playing a Manson-like sadist. He is camouflaged in a foot-long beard and empty sleeve thanks to having his arm blown off in a gun battle. And then there is Michelle Dockery who has come about as far as you can from Lady Mary Crowley in Downton Abbey. In Godless she plays a widowed horse rancher (with no trace of a British accent, by the way) who’s good with a rifle and tough as nails. Her Paiute mother-in-law is played by Canadian actor Tantoo Cardinal who steals every scene she is in. Keeping the playing-against-type theme going, there is the transformation of Merritt Weaver who you will remember as Zoey the plump, mousy, sweet nurse in Nurse Jackie. In Godless as Mary Agnes, Weaver straps on a gunbelt, wears men’s clothes, swears like a trooper and is in a relationship with the town schoolmarm who moonlights, literally, as a prostitute. Television is truly in a golden age these days, now that it has the freedom to produce grown up programming, as movies have been able to do since the relaxation of censorship in the late 1960’s. But movies, because of the enormous costs of production seem to be caught in a rut of franchise-filming—endless sequels and prequels of mostly fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters. Better to go with the tried and true than to experiment. Television, at least pay television and streaming services like Netflix; has become much nimbler and experimental and as a result it is becoming attractive to established movie stars who welcome an opportunity to spread their acting wings.
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