‘Focus’ on TCM

The feature film debut of celebrated photographer and commercial director Neal Slavin, the 2001 drama Focus is based on Arthur Miller’s 1945 novel about a meek, quietly conformist personnel manager at a New York company whose life is transformed after he gets a new pair of glasses. “They make you look Jewish,” his mother complains, and sure enough longtime neighbors and co-workers start looking askance at him. William H. Macy plays Lawrence Newman, a Presbyterian who traces his American ancestry back to the 18th century and a life-long single man who cares for a wheelchair-ridden mother. When he falls under suspicion of Hebrew ancestry, his middle class Brooklyn neighborhood puts him on “the list” and the anti-Semitic harassment begins, as it does with the Jewish news agent on the corner (played by David Paymer). Laura Dern co-stars as Gertrude, a New York girl who is herself mistaken for Jewish when she interviews for a job at Lawrence’s company, which has a strict hiring policy: Christian only.

Focus is based on the sole novel by playwright Arthur Miller, which was written while World War II was still being fought and published in 1945. “It was probably the first novel about anti-Semitism ever published in this country,” said Miller in a 2001 interview, and it made some publishers nervous at the time.

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Shows on TCM on Tuesday, September 23

TV on DVD: ‘Shameless’

From Showtime comes Shameless: The Complete First Season (Warner), the American incarnation of the British dramedy relocated from Manchester to South Chicago. William H. Macy stars as Frank Gallagher, the perpetually drunk single father of six kids and Emmy Rossum is eldest daughter Fiona, who juggles multiple jobs to raise the kids in his absence. It’s not that he’s run off. He’s just not around. Or passed out those rare times he is home.

Frank is a Chicago Irish reprobate who spouts a lazy line of sloppy libertarianism, confused conspiracy theory and crude cynicism, whatever serves his immediate purpose. But he clearly doesn’t believe in anything apart from getting his next drink, which he funds by scamming disability payouts and doing a little light thieving. It’s up to Fiona to make the rent, the electric bill, the groceries, with the help of siblings who step up to help out where dad fails to come through.

The show flits between treating Frank as a lovable drunk with incorrigible antics and a worthless waste of space the rest look after out of family duty. And just when you think they couldn’t do worse, the mother who abandoned them without a word almost two years ago returns to prove otherwise. But there are far more screwed up people in the this series – adults and kids – than the Gallagher family, at least the kids, who have pulled together to take care of each other. And so what if Fiona’s boyfriend (Justin Chatwin) is a car thief with a double identity? He’s the kind of guy who steps up to look out for the kids in a way dad would never even consider. It’s not your traditional portrait of family values, but it works here.

12 episodes three discs on DVD and two discs on Blu-ray, plus a substantial collection of supplements. There is commentary on two episodes (including the original pilot), two featurettes (one on adapting the British show in an American context, the other an overview of the show and its characters) and a lively, unrated conversation about sex with the four co-stars you definitely want hear from on the subject.

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