May 20, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

Catching up with ‘Archive 81’ | Arts & Entertainment

8 min read

Everyone knows ‘90s nostalgia is in the air. From “Impeachment” to “Pam & Tommy,” we just can’t escape the pop culture between the end of the Gulf War and the ominous threat of Y2K. There are plenty of reasons for this. For starters, folks now in their 40s, a coveted audience, came of age during the Clinton era. Who doesn’t like to glance back at their youth?

And the 1990s marks the last period before the dominance of digital culture. Napster and its introduction of massive file sharing didn’t arrive until 1999. As “Pam & Tommy” demonstrates, back then, even the most coveted web content loaded very slowly on the dial-up modems of the time. It was a period before people “lived” on the internet or on their smartphones or the social media technology would make possible.

While not primarily a ’90s nostalgia product, the recent Netflix thriller series “Archive 81” offers a reflection on the changes between then and now.

Touching on themes from “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Ghostbusters,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield” and “The Ring,” the series stars Mamoudue Athie as Dan, a present-day expert in videotape restoration hired by a shadowy corporation to recover footage from an old camcorder melted in a tragic fire. Seems in 1994, Melody (Dina Shihabi) was making a documentary about a curious apartment building in lower Manhattan, said to be the home of witches and other dabblers in the occult.

Dan’s search and Melody’s archived story take us down a rabbit hole of musty and deteriorating footage. Certainly, there’s nothing as creepy, ghostly and haunting as images revealed right before they are lost to time, fire or chemical combustion.

The mystery unfolds on a variety of film stocks and video technology, from a creepy silent film of an occult ritual from the 1920s to odd snippets captured on a PXL2000, an obscure camcorder marketed to children by Fisher Price in the late 1980s. This curious camera used audio cassettes to capture grainy black-and-white moving images, bordered with a solid black frame that resembled a funeral announcement. While the “toy” cameras had zero appeal to children, they were embraced by artists and makers of music videos. A scene shot by a PXL camera appears in Richard Linklater’s 1990 feature “Slacker,” an ode to Austin’s hipster scene.

Creepy and confusing in all the best ways, “Archive” is always a tad off-center. Devoid of sexual tension, yet deeply romantic, it follows Dan’s pursuit of Melody, even though they exist in worlds (or in footage) separated by decades. They never can meet. Or can they? Perhaps I’ve said too much.

• Speaking of creepy, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water”) offers a 21st-century take on the 1947 film noir classic “Nightmare Alley” (7 p.m. Saturday, HBO). The film also streams on HBO Max.

Set in the lurid demimonde of circus performers, fortunetellers, freaks and carneys, it sports a huge cast headlined by Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett. While critically praised and in the running for awards-season consideration, “Nightmare” was a box-office disappointment.

• In 1964, Sidney Poitier, who died Jan. 6, was the first Black actor to win a Best Actor Academy Award for his role in the 1963 feel-good drama “Lilies of the Field” (7 p.m. Sunday, TCM, TV-PG). He played a homeless handyman who helps an order of German-speaking nuns build a chapel in the Arizona desert.

While the importance of Oscars can be overstated, Poitier’s award came the same year as the passage of major civil rights legislation and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It was clearly a moment.

The film blended two prevailing themes of 1960s popular culture: a belief in racial progress and obsession with nuns. In 1963, the song “Dominique,” sung by Belgian nuns, was the first song by a non-American female artist to hit No. 1 on the charts. The decade would see the popularity of “The Singing Nun” (1966); “The Sound of Music” (1965); “The Trouble With Angels” (1966) and its sequel, “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” (1968); “Change of Habit” (1969), starring Mary Tyler Moore and Elvis Presley, and of course, the TV sitcom “The Flying Nun” starring Sally Field.


• 2022 Winter Olympics events include short track, figure skating and alpine skiing (7 p.m., NBC) and curling (7 p.m., CNBC).

• Nine home bakers face the gauntlet of elimination on “Great Chocolate Showdown” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).

• A would-be TV host runs afoul of her deranged assistant in the 2021 shocker “Single Black Female” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

• A museum curator and trustee bond over an artistic discovery in the 2022 romance “The Wedding Veil” (7 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).

• “China: Nature’s Ancient Kingdom” (7 p.m., BBC America, r, TV-G) explores how people in Eastern China, among the most crowded areas on the planet, make room for natural wonders.

• The Lakers host the Knicks in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).

• Historians and experts discuss an artificial substance that has conquered the globe in less than 125 years on “History of Bakelite and the Legacy of Plastics” (7:50 p.m., C-SPAN2).


• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Lexington, Ky.’s reaction to COVID; fatal accidents and military training; the unmarked graves found at Canadian schools for Indigenous children.

• 2022 Winter Olympics events include figure skating, alpine skiing and freestyle skiing (7 p.m., NBC).

• Feeling peckish on “Around the World in 80 Days” on “Masterpiece” (7 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings).

• Prince pursues his dreams of Olympics glory on “Billions” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

• Buried treasure on “The Rookie” (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-14).

• Max goes undercover at a monastery on the season finale of “Vienna Blood” (9 p.m., PBS, TV-14, check local listings).

• Jesse recovers from an assault on “The Righteous Gemstones” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

• The Feast of St. Francis on “Somebody Somewhere” (9:30 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

• “We Need to Talk About Cosby” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA) follows the comedian into the 1970s, when his reputation as an educator and role model stands in contrast to his private behavior.


It’s taken us some 60 years to catch up with tales of space-obsessed tycoon villains found in thrillers such as “Dr. No” (6 p.m. Sunday, Sundance, TV-PG), from 1962.


Hetty is less than transparent on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (7 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) … A tycoon swindler hires mercenaries on “S.W.A.T.” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) … An ultimatum on “The Cleaning Lady” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) … “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS).


“Big Brother: Celebrity Edition” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) …. Fast fashion on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) … “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune” (7 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … Homecoming on “March” (7 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG) … A murder mystery party on “The Great North” (7:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) … A brush with abduction on “The Equalizer” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) … Debts to pay on “Bob’s Burgers” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) … “Supermarket Sweep” (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … On “Two Sentence Horror Stories” (CW, TV-PG): teens (8 p.m.); cancel culture (8:30 p.m.) … Lois’s gambit proves shortsighted on “Family Guy” (8:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) … Library thieves on “S.W.A.T.” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

— OK, that was weird. The least expected story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and Lori Loughlin, star of “When Calls the Heart” (7 p.m. Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery/cheating plot to get their respective daughters into elite universities.

This is obviously an ongoing case, and all sides must have their say, or day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It involves some overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if anything “lesser” were unthinkable.

Television plays no small role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every single character hails from only the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.

There was a time, not that long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about young, barely accredited lawyers from no-name institutions who took on impossible cases against massive corporations and eventually won. And got the girl, to boot.

So, our current era’s neurotic obsession with elitism and inequality is hardly hard-wired.

If anything comes of this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are always essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedic. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and pitied the millionaire and his wife.

— CNN launches the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 p.m., Sunday), profiling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned the decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.


— An anxious new mother joins a group for solidarity and support, only to discover that it has darker plans on its agenda in the 2019 shocker “Mommy Group Murder” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

— The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).

— An old kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).


— Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Embassy workers in China and Cuba complain of mysterious ailments; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of overlooked American small towns and cities; a visit to Monaco.

— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

— Lex Luthor is on the loose on “Supergirl” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).

— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

— After learning about her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old becomes a little tyrant in the 2019 shocker “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

— A secret room holds dangers on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

— Hidden secrets revealed on “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

— A new trial is pursued on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-14).

— Axe is determined to destroy Taylor on the fourth season premiere of “Billions” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

— Ulysses pursues a conspiracy theory on “Now Apocalypse” (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

— “Unsung” (8 p.m., TVONE) profiles the Jets.

— Pacific overtures on “Madam Secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

— Tensions rise on “Good Girls” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

— Mo’s past is revealed on “Black Monday” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).


— St. Patrick’s Day inspires many traditions. Syfy offers a marathon of “Leprechaun” movies, from “Leprechaun 5: In the Hood” (4 p.m. Saturday, TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 p.m.). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling out the Technicolor blarney of director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG).


“Dateline” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) … “NBA Countdown” (7 p.m., ABC) … The kids are all right on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) … “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) … A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).


A visit from an old friend inspires Miles on “God Friended Me” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) … Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual realm on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) … On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s winter Olympics (8 p.m.), fighting over a dowager (8:30 p.m., r) … Aches and pains on “Shark Tank” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

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