Archive for February 26, 2016

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Two: “The Cobbler”

February 26, 2016

Better Call Saul has a Mike problem. Granted, this is what Marlo Stanfield from The Wire would refer to as “one of them good problems,” but a problem it remains. Simply put: No matter how thoughtfully composed the shots, no matter how refined the acting from the show’s cast of largely comic talents gone dramatic with excellent results, no matter how strong a character Jimmy McGill remains—when Jonathan Banks is on screen as Mike Ehrmantraut, there’s no one else you’d rather be watching.

I reviewed this week’s Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Eight

February 22, 2016

Matthew Goode’s performance does Henry no favors either. With the exception of his touching breakdown after the death of his friend in a car crash, he’s stuck on store-brand Young Hugh Grant mode, without the endearingly irritating stammer. His allegedly charming and irresistible character delivers lines like “I’m hot, I’m cold, I can barely breathe, and it’s all because of you” as if reading them from cue cards. Compare this to the quiet, aching intensity of Dan Stevens’s Matthew Crawley the night before his wedding to Mary, when he told her “I would never be happy with anyone else as long as you walked the earth”; the line exploded like an atom bomb of absolute devotion, not some half-assed ode to teenage twitterpation.

Most frustrating of all is the fact that none of this would have been necessary had Julian Fellowes simply spent the past three seasons taking the pieces he already had on hand and building toward their eventual assembly. In other words, it is madness, madness, that Tom and Mary never got together. I mean really, did no one involved with this production see this? Both characters lost their star-crossed spouses to sudden death at tragically young ages—when the actors playing them moved on for greener pastures, that is. In so doing, Dan Stevens and Jessica Brown Findlay gave Fellowes a gift he’d never have gotten had only one of them ankled the show: a symmetrical vacuum the surviving characters could easily, artfully fill. Sure, it would have been tough to swallow at first. But after this season especially, featuring scene after scene depicting Tom and Mary’s abiding friendship and respect—not to mention their explosive argument after she sabotages Edith’s engagement, overflowing with the kind of anger only people who truly love each other can generate—can anyone deny the chemistry was there? Yet the gift went unopened, the chemical reaction uninitiated. Fellowes had years to build them up, but instead we got Tony Gillingham and Miss Bunting and Henry freaking Talbot. Madness. Madness!

And yet! Frustrating though the conclusion to Mary’s completely theoretical grand romance with Henry may have been, it wasn’t enough to ruin what surrounded it: scene after scene of payoff for longstanding storylines, giving a sizeable segment of the cast their best material in literally years.

I reviewed last night’s big big big Downton Abbey for the New York Observer. I did not wind up where I thought I would with this one.

I almost never say this kind of thing, but I believe my writing on Downton Abbey is among my best. Check it out, maybe you will too.

“Billions” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “The Deal”

February 22, 2016

To be blunt, why would Wendy do something so stupid? On a show full of “the smartest guy in the room”s, she may very well bethe smartest guy in any of the rooms, Bobby’s savant-like mastery of the market notwithstanding. Surely she can see that the last place she should be with the multibillionaire her federal attorney husband is trying to put behind bars is in a pool while in the nude. The most reasonable supposition is that she did it because the show needed her to, to provide Axe with the ammo he’ll need to fight Chuck off as the season progresses. If we’re being generous, though, you could see this not as a plot-hammer goof, but as a deliberate indictment. In this line of thinking, Wendy’s so keen on proving herself perfectly neutral, impossible to intimidate, and a better student of Axe and Chuck’s psyches than Axe and Chuck themselves that she doesn’t even see how idiotic what she’s doing really is. That’s certainly the kind of trap Axe, who’s legendary for always thinking like a dozen steps ahead of anyone else, would set for her. I just wish it didn’t feel like such an out-of-character misstep for her to fall for it.

I reviewed last night’s Billions for the New York Observer. Like, I get what they’re up to, but I don’t think it’s working.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Yesterday Once More”

February 22, 2016

Yes, it’s early yet, and maybe there will be more to these women revealed in future episodes. But it’s 2016, folks. Prestige drama’s “wife problem” is an issue of long standing, and giving the females in these bad boys’ lives something interesting to do — even if it’s constrained by the sexism of the time — is hardly asking the a writers’ room to split the atom. This show has enough faith in its musical message to allow us to laugh about it. Hopefully, it will display an equal commitment to its characters by taking all of them seriously.

This week’s Vinyl was a mixed bag, with a welcome sense of humor about Richie’s rock’n’roll salvation and a pro-forma lonely-wife storyline sitting uncomfortably side by side. I wrote about it for Rolling Stone.

“Puke Force” Is a Graphic Novel About Online Groupthink and Lone-Wolf Terrorism

February 21, 2016

VICE: If I didn’t know any better I’d read this book as a warning to kids about the dangers of online. Not that it’s preachy, but the constant connectedness goes hand-in-hand with surveillance, and with the spread of destructive ideas.

Brian Chippendale: People are definitely reading a heavy warning about online activity in the book, and I think that’s one regret I have. I love the Internet. [Laughs] I’ve gotten so much practical use out of it: Selling prints, booking tours, saying hey to old friends—all that. But I do feel that even though I have an overt need for and warmth toward some social media, there is an undercurrent of energy on there that corrodes the soul.

What do you mean by “corrodes the soul”?

I think it’s the feeling that you’re not alone anymore. That should be a positive thing, right? But I think aloneness is important. It’s very important to get lost in your own head, not just get lost in the hive mind. As an artist, I need to venture inside to get at deeper meaning. Maybe new muscles for that are forming in younger people, new ways to go deep. I don’t necessarily think we are going to lose a generation to the internet. It’s an amazing tool. Pizza delivery drones, on the other hand? I’ll definitely be throwing rocks at them… and ordering pizzas.

I interviewed Brian Chippendale, Lightning Bolt drummer and one of the best cartoonists of his generation, about his new graphic novel Puke Force for Vice.

“Serial” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “Hindsight, Part 2”

February 21, 2016

This time, we’re not just counting on fellow soldiers and childhood friends to explain just how ill-suited Bowe and his delusions of heroic grandeur were to army life—we’ve got the man himself. In an interview with screenwriter Mark Boal, Bergdahl describes himself as “lost in the fantasy” of being a soldier—not the modern-day kind, the only variety actually on offer, but a mythologized hybrid of soldiers from World War II, the 1800s, the era of the samurai, and the completely fictional world of kung-fu flicks. Bergdahl’s conception of the soldier’s life was entirely based around outmoded, if not outright invented, ideas of valor and honor. Bowe realizes his viewpoint was not realistic, but sticks with it nonetheless, insisting that the conditions he found unacceptable “shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.” And since he believes in the bushido code, he doesn’t take any of the more readily traveled roads available to him, from speaking with an embedded reporter (not soldierly enough) to contacting any one of the dozens of officers at the forward operating base he was at days before he wandered off (not heroic enough). Reality had disappointed him, and the ideas he’d generate to reclaim his fantasy would be invariably grandiose—and doomed to failure.

What better writer to give voice to this childlike view than the philosopher queen of take-my-ball-and-go-home right-wing extremism, Ayn Rand? Bergdahl’s friends groan to Koenig as they recall a group email he sent out just prior to his departure, titled “Who Is John Galt?” and cribbing extensively from the Objectivist ur-text Atlas Shrugged, demanding that institutions shape themselves around men of worth, not the other way around. A copy of the novel winds up arriving at his old friend Kim’s house, along with his valuables, days after his disappearance. It’s a shame, in a way, that Bergdahl didn’t go into politics, where Objectivism is often a ticket to the august ranks of the United States Senate and a subsequent failed mid-tier presidential primary campaign. Instead, he went into the Army and “went Galt” when the system failed him, demanding it all grind to a halt in his service. The results were entirely predictable.

I reviewed the second installment in last week’s Serial doubleheader for the New York Observer.

“Serial” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “Hindsight, Part 1”

February 21, 2016

Over the episode’s relatively short running time of 38 minutes, Koenig presents a litany of first-hand testimony to Bergdahl’s unique psychology. She begins with the many, many soldiers who highly doubt his retrospective rationale for running away from his post, arguing he had years to cook up this flattering story. Some proffer an alternate theory: According to them, Bergdahl sometimes wondered aloud about faking his death, going AWOL, running off to Pakistan, making his way to India, joining the Russian mafia, working his way to the top as a mercenary and hitman, killing the boss, and taking over. Hey, he’s nothing if not ambitious! In the end the story is even less credible and logistically possible than Bergdahl’s version, but it speaks to his overwhelming desire to be seen as a great warrior, a self-made ubermensch.

If this version of Bergdahl is a bit on the Bane side, interviews with earlier acquaintances paint him as more of a Batman type. Growing up isolated and homeschooled on a remote farm, Bergdahl eventually fell in with a slightly artsy crowd clustered around on a performing arts center and teahouse in a nearby town. There he learned how to fence, became famous among his circle for testing his own mettle (seeing how long he could go without speaking, punching trees and rocks to strengthen his hands), and began amassing makeshift weapons to protect his little clique in the event of…god knows what. His friends describe him as a young man obsessed with the concept of virtue and determined to arrive at his own definition rather than follow someone else’s. What he came up with—basically, you can only be a good person if you’re doing everything in your power to solve any problem in the world that you can observe—could be considered crippling in its impossibility to implement…if your goal really was to ameliorate every problem you encounter. If your goal is to be seen as the kind of man who does that, by both yourself and others, then the course is a bit clearer. For Bergdahl, who friends say wanted to be seen as “a silent protector” of the innocent, it was plain as day.

I reviewed the first of last week’s two, count ‘em two, episodes of Serial for the New York Observer.

Jonesing for Jessica Episode 13: AKA Smile

February 16, 2016

Longtime friend of the blog Elana Levin and her cohost Brett Schenker invited me on their Graphic Policy Radio podcast to discuss the season finale of Jessica Jones, as well as the whole season itself. It was contentious and fun. (Spoiler Alert: I’m Officer Simpson’s Bad Fan.) Give it a listen!

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode One: “Switch”

February 16, 2016

Few prestige dramas since the term was coined have made as much use of the quiet as Better Call Saul, which returned last night with its Season Two premiere, “Switch.” Considering its status as the can’t-miss prequel to one of the era’s most explosive shows, Breaking Bad, this is something of a surprise. That series didn’t mind silence, of course, but it was always a silence freighted with the expectation of eventual explosion—the hiss of a fuse before the dynamite blows. Pretty much from the start, BCS co-creators and BB honchos Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have dwelled in the other end of the dynamic range. Rather than recreate the rollercoaster rise and fall of Heisenberg in all its white-knuckle tension and tumult, they’ve been telling the story of Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman in half-muted slow motion. He’s a small man with small dreams, the kind that are shattered by harsh words and hopelessness rather than bombs and bullets. The tonal shift is is dramatic, and given how easy it would have been to cash in with Breaking Bad Part Deux–level mayhem (Fear the Walking Dead, anyone?), creatively courageous.

I reviewed the season premiere of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer, where I’ll be covering the show this year. I snuck my Top 10 TV Shows of 2015 in there too.

“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Seven

February 16, 2016

Sure, everyone does yeoman’s work in selling Henry Talbot’s supposed emotional connection to Mary, mostly by making the most of the emotions that emerge in the wake of the wreck. Actor Matthew Goode looks marvelously bottomed-out when next we see him—crouched near the track, smoking a cigarette, tear-lined eyes staring blankly, covered in soot. Michelle Dockery’s porcelain face can never really properly be described as “contorted,” but as Mary she widens her eyes and mouth into perfect black O’s of terror that slacken ever so slightly the moment she realizes it was poor Charlie, and not beloved Henry, who perished. “Do you know the worst thing?” she asks in horror to Tom Branson afterwards. “When they said it was Charlie and not Henry who was dead, I was glad! Think of that—I was glad!” Mary’s ability to self-indict for her coldness and callousness has always been one of her most compelling characteristics; here she’s turning it on herself in a way that simply isn’t fair, given how most anyone would involuntarily react under such circumstances, and it’s wrenching to behold.

But while her undue disgust with herself is as easy to parse as it is hard to endure, the devastation she ostensibly feels about the end of her relationship with Henry is impossible to connect with. Who is this guy, honestly? We’ve only ever seen him show up, be handsome and charming (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), and get psyched about cars. He’s a cipher, and no amount of late-night break-up phone calls can change that, let alone a bait-and-switch in which a minor character is sacrificed in order to fan the flames of Mary’s ardor.

If Downton is serious about matching Henry up with Mary by series’ end, this represents a tremendous dereliction of duty. Mary and Matthew had over two seasons of buildup before they finally tied the knot, during which time their romance was not only the central storyline of the show, but the symbolic representation of its entire old-versus-new theme. In the process of hashing out both the plot and the metaphor, the pair got so much screentime we couldn’t help but get to know them as well as any characters in the show. Henry remains a black hole, and if Mary falls for him for real, she’ll fall right into it and take the series along with her in the end.

I reviewed this week’s Downton Abbey for the New York Observer. I like a lot of things about this show, but the forced romance between Mary and Henry is not one of them.

“Billions” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “The Good Life”

February 16, 2016

Billions appears to have gotten its first major problem, raunch for raunch’s sake, out of its system with this episode. The sex scene between Bobby and Lara is as hot as you’d expect a little afternoon delight in the pool involving Damian Lewis and Malin Akerman to be. Even a visit to a BDSM club by Chuck goes from a cheap fetish freak show to an illustration of his and Wendy’s very thought-through sexual dynamic when he not only calls her to confess that he’s there, but she also demands he stay on the line and walk her through what he sees, calling the shots the whole time. So that’s one distraction down.

Which brings us to a second, even bigger problem, which is that with said distraction gone, we’re left to realize how little there was to distract from. Simply put, who are these people? Five episodes in and Bobby Axelrod is just not that interesting a guy. He’s barely crooked enough to qualify as a villain. His taste in everything is bland and bro-ish (I get that trying to watch Citizen Kane after his rock-singer friend suggested it because that’s the sort of thing people like him do but then not being able to finish it is supposed to say something about who this guy is, and it does: It says that he’s shallow and boring, all too well.) His primary demon seems to be loving his job making money hand over fist too much, which is like asking us to worry about a baker whose donuts are too goddamn delicious.

I reviewed this week’s episodes of Billions for the New York Observer. Tough to be interested in these characters.

“Vinyl” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

February 15, 2016

Even a record that’s a start-to-finish stone classic has one or two standout tracks that sum up the whole blessed thing: your “Stairway to Heaven” or, say, your “Drunk in Love.” And in the pilot episode of Vinyl, — the Martin Scorsese–directed, Mick Jagger–produced Seventies NYC rock drama fromBoardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter — a pair of scenes distinguish themselves from the pack. In the first, a coked-up, bottomed-out record exec named Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) rapturously watches the New York Dolls deliver a performance of “Personality Crisis” so blistering it literally brings down the house. In the second, Finestra and industry sleazebag Joe Corso (portrayed by real-life ex-cop and frequent Scorsese collaborator Bo Dietl) take a radio mogul played by Andrew “Dice” Clay and bash his skull in on-screen.

Based on this initial episode, in other words, this show is not going to make converts out of skeptics. Vinyl is for Horror City nostalgia buffs and people predisposed to belief in the healing power of rock & roll. It’s for music nerds who’ll flip out equally for cameos by golden god Robert Plant, his maniac manager Peter Grant, and hip-hop progenitor DJ Kool Herc … all on the same night! It’s for those pop scholars who’ll catch references to both perpetual also-rans the Good Rats and soft-rock punchlines England Dan and John Ford Coley. And it’s also for the kind of Scorsese fans who’ll recognize a scene’s doo-wop-soundtracked mafia meeting as a GoodFellasdescendant and who crave first-person voiceover narration like Jordan Bellfort jonesed for quaaludes.

So is it for you? You may think you know the answer already. But don’t be so sure.

I reviewed the series premiere of Vinyl, which I thought was a hoot, for Rolling Stone, where I’ll be covering the show this season.

Revisiting “Boardwalk Empire,” the Most Underappreciated Drama of Its Time

February 15, 2016

Nor has there been a finer, sadder example of a wounded warrior than Richard Harrow. Introduced by writer Howard Korder during season one while waiting for a psychiatric evaluation at a veteran’s hospital, Harrow (an unrecognizable Jack Huston in his breakthrough performance) makes a knockout first impression with his broken-throated, Gollum-like croak, the unnerving uncanny-valley mask he uses to hide his severe facial disfigurement (a sniper himself, he was shot in the face), and with the black nihilism he cites as the reason he no longer reads novels. “It occurred to me: The basis of fiction is that people have some sort of connection with each other. But they don’t.” I gasped when I first heard this line, dredged from my worst fears about life, love, and their collective lack of lasting meaning. Richard’s capacity for belief in humanity was blown out of him in the Great War, and much of his time on the show chronicled its slow restoration, though dozens of dead bodies dropped behind him on his way. This archetype — the man (usually) who is taught violence in service of an ideal, only to discover one is real and the other a cheap fiction — is a distinctly American one; The Wire’s Omar Little,Fargo’s Hanzee Dent, and Game of Thrones’ Sandor “The Hound” Clegane all share Richard’s table in their sad Valhalla. And though his final scenes were devastating, his greatest contribution to the series is in the teeth-grinding tension of the shoot-out sequence that completes the third season, as he blows his way through a small army of Rosetti men to rescue his late friend Jimmy’s son. The scene weds action to emotion as effectively and movingly as any I’ve ever seen, its resolution viewed through a blood-spattered window, an impenetrable barrier to normalcy for this tragic figure.

On the eve of the debut of Vinyl from the same creative team, I got to write a longtime dream essay of mine, a full-throated defense of Boardwalk Empire as one of the New Golden Age of TV Drama’s hidden treasures, for Vulture.

The 40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time

February 9, 2016

4. Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones

Seven gods, seven kingdoms, zero redeeming qualities — the atrocious boy king who bedeviled House Stark was a living embodiment of George R.R. Martin’s furious fantasy revisionism: If you’re a rich man with a good family name, you can get away with literally anything. In Joffrey’s case, this included torture, murder, sexual assault, the beheading of the show’s main character (R.I.P. Ned, you were too good for this world), and generally being a sneering little shit. He was so hateful that the few times he received any kind of comeuppance—an insult, a slap, a good old-fashioned regicide at the so-called Purple Wedding — are among the show’s most meme-able moments. Actor Jack Gleeson retired from showbiz immediately upon completion of the role; by scraping the bottom, he went out on top.

I ranked the 40 greatest TV villains of all time for Rolling Stone. This, of course, is definitive and inarguable.

The 25 Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2016

February 8, 2016

Game of Thrones (HBO, April 24)

The cable network’s dark-fantasy juggernaut has left a long trail of dead characters and shocked audiences in its wake, though readers of George R.R. Martin’s books always knew when to duck. All that changes when the show returns for its sixth season this year — because The Winds of Winter appears to have hit the proverbial Wall, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been free to plan their own red weddings this season. While the show will continue to be based at least in part on future plans revealed to creators by Martin, it had already begun deviating from the source with increasing regularity and boldness. (Is Jon Snow alive or dead? Who the hell knows?) Look for an even stormier winter than usual.

I joined forces with ace writers David Fear and Rob Sheffield to run down the year’s most anticipated TV shows for Rolling Stone.

“Billions” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Short Squeeze”

February 8, 2016

Metallica on a TV show, yeah yeah yeah. There was only one supergroup that really mattered in this episode: Gale from Breaking Bad, on the phone with Brody from Homeland, with Stan from The Americans sitting a few feet away, as they fly to Quebec for an unexpected run-in with Donna from Halt and Catch Fire. Yes, the prestige-drama-actor bingo card that is Billions got fuller up than ever in this week’s installment. But you didn’t even really need to watch David Costabile be sleazy, Damian Lewis be shrewd, Noah Emmerich be squirrelly, or Kerry Bishé be sexy to enjoy yourself. Written by newcomer Young Il Kim and directed by veteran James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross!!!), “Short Squeeze” made Billions a tighter, smarter, better show than it has been so far.

I reviewed last night’s star-studded, very good Billions for the New York Observer.

“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Six

February 8, 2016

After all, what is Downton Abbey but a chance to see, as Lord Robert put it, “how the other half lives”? To admire, as Molesley put it, “fine craftsmanship and beautiful paintings”? And isn’t the flipside of that, as Lady Edith laments, that the Crawleys’ “way of life is something strange, something to queue up and buy a ticket to see, a museum exhibit, a fat lady in the circus”? (Sadly, the program has not yet delivered on Lord Robert’s idea of giving viewers their money’s worth by showing them “Lady Mary in the bath.” Hope springs eternal!) Or put more darkly, as Molesley does, don’t people “start asking, ‘Why have the Crawleys got all of this and I haven’t?’” Aren’t there plenty of critics echoing Mr. Carson’s dire warning of “a guillotine in Trafalgar Square,” but as a positive thing? These are all sentiments expressed about the potential motives for and results of the villagers’ visit, but they describe the range of reactions to the show just as accurately.

And as usual, Julian Fellowes is studiously agnostic as to which side has the right of it. Given his biography and the state of the world, neutrality isn’t really all that neutral. But I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that there’s something inherently immoral about the setup of the show. Everyone on it is so nice that much of the horror of the British class system is elided, but if you’re dim enough to watch this thing and think “those were the good old days,” that’s hardly Fellowes’s fault.

I reviewed last night’s very meta Downton Abbey for the New York Observer.

“Serial” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “Five O’Clock Shadow”

February 8, 2016

The contradictions inherent in Bergdahl’s personality emerge clear as day. It’s not that he’s opposed to danger per se; his DUSTWUN misadventure and his two subsequent attempts to escape from the Taliban prove that. Moreover, Koenig reports his friends and fellow soldiers recalling him frequently agitating for more engagement with the enemy, more “killing bad guys.” Not that he’s there to “rape, burn, pillage, and kill,” mind you, to quote the gallows humor he reportedly took very poorly when a higher-up joked that this was not their mission in a briefing before deployment. Heaven forbid anyone believe Bowe Bergdahl is anything less than a real American hero! He was equally keen on COIN, the well-intentioned but impracticable boondoggle of a military doctrine whereby soldiers slowly gain the trust of the locals and cut off insurgents’ support at the roots, effectively impossible to do in a series of brief months-long rotations. Sgt. Bergdahl was there to help, goddammit, to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. It wasn’t danger he feared, it was danger that didn’t help him prove he’s a supersoldier, a man of honor and valor, a true knight. (This was the thinking behind his pointless acts of Arthurian self-abnegation, like sleeping directly on his bedprings instead of a mattress and snuggling a tomahawk to sleep every night.) Getting yelled at bothered him because he expected a hero’s welcome; not receiving it was tantamount to a threat against his personal safety. And if he couldn’t be a hero playing by the rules, then by god he was going to break them. Thus was the ludicrous AWOL mission that began the season conceived.

I wrote about Bowe Bergdahl deciding his life was in danger because he got chewed out over a dress code violation, and what that means about him and the show covering him, in my review of last week’s Serial for the New York Observer.

“Mad Dogs” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “Needles”

February 8, 2016

That there is a Season 2 is a tough thing to complain about. Mad Dogs was entertaining as the dickens from start to finish, its pacing often as good as this kind of “oh shit!” suspense gets, its performances uniformly strong right down to the bit parts, its musings on sacrifice and regret and morality never glib or hamfisted and often quite thoughtful. Plus, with any luck, Allison Tolman and Ted Levine will be along for the ride on a semi-permanent basis next time.

But it’s still tough not to wonder if the show wouldn’t have been better off as a miniseries or anthology. No matter how hard the writers work to justify it, bringing the four friends back together in Belize, or anywhere else for that matter, can’t help but feel like horny teenagers returning to Camp Crystal Lake, or John McClane running into yet another band of terrorist bank robbers only he can stop. As it stands, the series was forced to soft-pedal the confrontation with “Jésus,” introduce Levine’s Conrad Tull but leave him hanging there like an unfinished sentence, and leave many vital questions about Joel and his current situation unanswered (but not in a cliffhanger way—in a “hey, what the hell is up with that?” way). A finite, 10-episode story would almost certainly have yielded a bigger emotional payoff and a more explosive genre-based ending. I’ll be happily watching next year regardless, but perhaps this trip really should have been once in a lifetime.

I liked Mad Dogs a lot, but I got to thinking that even as showrunners have been granted authority to tell and end their stories as they see fit, for the most part (aside from anthology series) they’re still expected to tell those stories over multiple seasons. I wrote about that in my review of the final episode.

“Mad Dogs” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Seahorse”

February 8, 2016


…Jazmin just doesn’t measure up. She comes across like a bad guy in a bad action movie, all unpredictable mood changes, inappropriate laughter, and the overall demeanor of an ADHD kid who’s gone off her meds. One second she’s playing Luke Skywalker with a machete, the next she’s asking Joel if he’d like to fuck, and the next she’s telling him how sad his kids will be to hear that he died. This manic pixie drug kingpin schtick flattens the character into a collection of tics, and makes it hard to take Joel’s plight seriously. He’s basically being threatened by a Looney Tunes character, whether the CIA wants to recruit her services or not.

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Mad Dogs for Decider last week. Thought it was a bit anticlimactic.