Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hey, Kids! Comics!

Friday, August 26th, 2016

You can get great deals on graphic novels from me & Julia’s merged collections by visiting our spiffy Amazon store! Titles for sale at bargain-basement prices include books by James Jean (a really rare one at that), Neil Gaiman, Darwyn Cooke, Jack Kirby, Ulli Lust, Michael DeForge, Jonny Negron, Blaise Larmee, John Stanley, Paul Dini, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Dennis Eichhorn, Paul Gravett, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Raymond Briggs, Dave Cooper, Jenn Manley Lee and more. Check it out!


“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12″

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

The most striking thing in this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot” wasn’t in this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot.” It’s Elliot Alderson, the mentally ill mastermind behind the hacker collective fsociety’s rapidly disintegrating plan to level the world’s economic playing field. For the first time in the history of the series, Elliot — and Rami Malek, the wide-eyed actor whom the role has made a star — did not appear.

When prominent characters drop out of the stories they sparked, they still sometimes function as a structuring absence, tying the action together even when they’re nowhere to be seen. Think of a generation of Stark children trying to live up to their slain father, Ned, in “Game of Thrones,” or even of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone casting a shadow over Al Pacino as his son and Robert DeNiro as his younger self in “The Godfather Part II.” But in “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12,” by contrast, Elliot’s absence has a destabilizing, disintegrating effect. Without his high-tension energy thrumming through the hour, without Malek’s unmistakable face serving as a landmark, viewers are sent the message that something is missing, off, wrong. Sure enough, the episode chronicles the downward spiral of Darlene, his sister and successor, and her compatriots into paranoia, flight from the law, violence and murder. When the center cannot hold, things fall apart.

I reviewed tonight’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times.


What “Stranger Things” Is Missing from the ’80s Horror Genre

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Saying Stranger Things wears its influences on its sleeve is like sayingBarb had a lousy time at Steve’s party: It’s true alright, but it understates the case considerably. Entire articles have been written detailing the themes, concepts, creatures, fonts, sound effects, and imagery swiped more or less wholesale from other films — here’s Vulture’s, just for example. And any fan of genre entertainment, particularly (though by no means exclusively) from the ’80s, can rattle off the creators whose original visions fueled the Duffer Brothers’ own without breaking a sweat. Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter are the most obvious touchstones, but you can also spot Judd Apatow, Shane Black, John Byrne, James Cameron, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Wes Craven, Joe Dante, Richard Donner, Fred Dekker, Jonathan Glazer, Gary Gygax, Tobe Hooper, John Hughes, Richard Kelly, John Landis, David Lynch, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Robert Zemeckis from a mile away. Any show assembled from building blocks that solid is going to be entertaining, at the very least; factor in universally fine performances from the show’s many child and young-adult actors, the strongest such cast assembled since Game of Thrones, and you’d be tempted to move Stranger Things out of the “hey, that was kinda fun” column straight into “this is a stone classic, gimme season two immediately” territory.

But unlike many of its countless forerunners, Stranger Things’ story of small-town terror communicates little beyond the contents of its creators’ Blu-ray collections. It’s so fixated on stirring nostalgia for the science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and adventure tales of yore that it has no time or energy left over for what made those horror tales compelling in the first place: wrestling with the fears and desires of the time period, and the different kinds of people — boys and girls, men and women, parents and children, kids and teens and adults — who found themselves struggling with them. Nearly everything difficult about the original works, everything weird, gross, uncomfortable, unexplained, and hidden beneath the surface (“occulted,” to use an evocative lit-studies term) has been stripped away in favor of a lowest-common-denominator pastiche that retains the surface elements but loses the power within.

The more I saw of this show, the more what it did with its source material bothered me. I went in-depth on how Stranger Things squandered its potential to actually be a stranger thing for Vulture.


How “Halt and Catch Fire” Became the Underdog Success of the Peak TV Era

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Indeed, Halt seems to reboot itself with each new season. It began as a familiarly anti-heroic drama about Joe’s hostile takeover of a tiny Texas electronics company in a quixotic quest to design a next-generation personal computer, but by Season Two the focus was on Cameron and Donna’s joint venture Mutiny, a video game company turned early Internet service provider and proto-social network. From the new setting to the new showrunners (Jonathan Lisco, who was at the helm for the series’ first two seasons, departed for TNT’s Animal Kingdom), the leap from Season Two to Season Three is equally dramatic. “We almost err on the side of so much reinvention that it’s frustrating,” Cantwell says. “But the technology industry is like that. Having to keep up with that constant change allows us to reinvent characters, to do some really cool stuff.”

It’s also helped the show itself catch fire—critically, if not commercially. After early growing pains driven by antihero fatigue (not helped by AMC’s decision to plop Joe and company right into the time slot recently vacated by the network’s previous period piece Mad Men), the show slowly evolved into a story about its passionate core quartet of tech whizzes struggling to work together, rather than to tear each other apart. By the time the women took center stage in the second season, critics were fully on board, making Halt one of 2015′s most acclaimed shows. Audiences, however, had yet to follow suit, and the series’ low ratings made its renewal an iffy proposition for months before the network finally gave the go-ahead.

“What I was told was that the journalists were the one who championed this thing,” McNairy confides during a break in shooting. “Like, ‘Please come back, please come back, please come back.’ I think the network was like, ‘Well, they definitely liked the show.’”

So does the network itself. “The guys from New York talk about it like fans,” Cantwell says. “Yes, they factor in all of the analytics and data in determining our future, but so far a big portion of [their decision-making process] has been, ‘Do we like this show? Yes, we like it a lot. Just go do your thing.’” Like the saga of the Internet upstarts it chronicles, Halt itself is, as cast and crew frequently call it, an underdog story—albeit one with an unusual amount of leeway to do things its own way.

Hence the series’ latest reinvention, and its third chance to snag an audience commensurate with the show’s quality: Halt and Catch Fire Season Three, which begins tonight. That fact alone makes Halt something of a success story—or what passes for one in the era of Peak TV, in which hundreds of scripted shows struggle for a share of the public’s attention, an uphill battle for any series without dragons or zombies in its arsenal. Getting that third season is a rare case of a show being rewarded simply for being well made rather than pulling in ratings or tapping the Twitter-trend zeitgeist. It’s a struggle that’d feel familiar to the characters themselves.

“There’s an intrinsic metaphor to what we’re doing here,” Kerry Bishé tells me before shooting that afternoon. “We’re making a TV show and the characters are making their technology, but the big goal is making a beautiful, perfect product that can go to market and succeed. It’d be nice if more people watched our show, but I’m doing work I love and value. We define ourselves so much by success in our jobs that I think it’s worth investigating what success is. What counts. What matters.”

I visited the set of Halt and Catch Fire and interviewed actors Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss, and Matthew Lillard, as well as co-creators and co-showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris C. Rogers, for Esquire. Here’s my report on the long road to Halt Season Three. The show starts again tonight at 9pm on AMC, and it’s one of the best on TV. Don’t miss it!


Summer Bummer: Why the Failed Revolution of “Mr. Robot” Is Exactly What We Need

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

What makes Mr. Robot unique is that it weds its politics to its emotional and visual palette. “We’re exploring what loneliness looks like today,” Esmail has said, and he’s dead on. This starts with the singular look cinematographer Tod Campbell has established for the show: characters “shortsighted” against the edge of the frame, like people staring into their laptop screens or smartphones; vast empty spaces above and around them, creating a sense of isolation and oppression. It extends to how Esmail and his fellow writers script the thing: Elliot and his companions communicate primarily the way most young people do these days—digitally. Text messages are more common than face-to-face meetings, which are riddled with anxiety when they do take place; even phone calls are reserved for only the most crucial information. Angela ensconces herself in the sonic womb of her headphones. Elliot stares listlessly at his few friends and his computer screen alike. Even relative go-getter FBI agent Dom DiPierro masturbates joylessly while sexting between bouts of insomnia. Talk to anyone who really loves Mr. Robot this season and you’ll get the same message: This show speaks to how it looks, sounds, and feels to be alienated in 2016, alone in a house or apartment with the internet at your fingertips and a world outside you but no real human connections.

That’s the difference between Mr. Robot and other political dramas—or, for that matter, between Mr. Robot and other shows that attempt to capture, and even succeed in capturing, young urban ennui, like Girls. It depicts the way political failure and personal failure blend together in our hearts and minds, becoming this inextricable, sticky depressive goo. It’s televised weltschmerz, and not since The Sopranos and The Wire were on has anyone done it better.

Mr. Robot’s first season was televised catharsis: a bracing breath of fresh political air on the TV landscape, unafraid to call out corporate and cultural malefactors by name and construct a story in which these evildoers could be taken down a peg or two. But to continue in that direction would be to betray the plight in which America finds itself—it would be a left-wing version of The Walking Dead’s hyper-violent paean to protecting ourselves from the dreaded outsiders by any means necessary. The bullet fsociety attempted to fire into the head of E Corp was no more fatal than the imaginary ones Elliot’s Mr. Robot blasted into his own brain. For the problems the show is confronting, there is no magic bullet; there may well be no remedy at all. That’s an unpleasant message, but that makes it all the more vital to hear. By wedding its political critique to intensely personal anxieties, Mr. Robot delivers that message loud and clear.

I wrote a defense of Mr. Robot Season Two for the New York Observer.


“Fear the Walking Dead” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “Grotesque”

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

The beauty of all this is that Nick is neither a born survivor nor a feckless, hapless loser. He’s a guy trying his best, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. The false dichotomy usually present in Fear the Walking Dead’s survival stories, where living to fight another day usually comes down simply to how violent you’re willing to be, is nowhere to be found. And throughout, director Daniel Sackheim — veteran of some of television’s best-made shows, including The LeftoversThe Americans, and Game of Thrones — frames Nick with some of the series’ most striking shots to date, driving home both his isolation and the lyrical, largely wordless nature (after all, he’s got no one to talk to) of his emotional and physical world.

It’s reminiscent, frankly, of the long, lovely, riveting silent stretches of, say, The Leftovers or Better Call Saul. Sure, it shows how much potential Fear squanders — imagine if it were like this every week! there’s really nothing stopping it! — but even so.

All in all, Nick’s journey here favorably compares to similar passages in, say, Stephen King’s The Stand, where the main obstacle to survival was distance itself — the vast amount of terrain that survivors of the apocalypse had to cover, and the sheer variety of dangers, large and small, they’d have to face on the way. Frankly, this entire franchise has never earned a comparison with a genre touchstone that strong before. I fear it won’t last, but for one week anyway, it’s manna from survival-horror heaven.

I reviewed last night’s Fear the Walking Dead mid-season premiere for Decider. Believe it or not, I liked it a lot! I think it’s the series’ first top-to-bottom good episode. For many reasons detailed in the review I feel a worthy follow-up is unlikely, but still.


“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Seven: “Ordinary Death”

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Even by the deeply degraded human-behavior plausibility standards of The Night Of, the jailhouse kiss shared by Nasir Khan and his attorney — his attorney! — Chandra Kapoor in “Ordinary Death,” this week’s episode, strains credulity beyond the breaking point and well into the realm of “you’ve got to be fucking shitting me.” Not that I’d expect anything more from Naz, who later in the episode becomes an accessory to murder, for real this time. Nor, frankly, would I hope for much better from Chandra, who despite her law degree and work on a high-profile case for a prestigious firm has been depicted to be green as the summer grass time and time again. (Remember when she didn’t know what ketamine was?)

But from Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, the two highly acclaimed auteurs behind this turkey, I think “not having a brilliant young lawyer make out with the murder suspect she’s representing in full view of Rikers Island security cameras” is the least we could demand. Naz is a handsome guy, sure, and I suppose I could understand how transference could cause Chandra’s protective instincts toward him — at this point, she’s one of the few people alive who believe he’s not guilty — to transmute into attraction. But he’s no more the only eligible bachelor in town than his dad was the only delivery guy capable of bringing her dinner the other week. Yet here we are, once again forcing a plot contrivance the way a prowler would jimmy open a lock. And for what? So Naz can have a series of gruesome flashbacks and visions of Andrea and her bloody corpse during and after the kiss? Whether to deepen our suspicion that he’s guilty or to simply exploit the perverse charge of seeing a woman maimed once again, it’s no more necessary than the kiss itself.

I reviewed last night’s The Night Of, which seems to have caused many in the audience to throw their hands up in despair, and for good reason, for Decider.


“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Six: “Samson and Delilah”

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Six episodes in, two episodes to go, and it’s time to admit it: I don’t understand The Night Of. Like, at all. I don’t understand its pacing — what happens, and when, and for how long. I don’t understand its characters — who gets centered, and when, and what we do or don’t learn about them. I don’t understand the dividing lines between episodes — why last week’s installment ended with John Stone in a dark basement with a lead pipe in his hand and a convict on the run, only for nothing to come of it, and why this week’s ended with him looking at a personal trainer possibly putting the moves on a client of a certain age with a hip-hop song based on Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” playing on the soundtrack. I don’t know why every black man is menacing. I don’t know why every decision Naz makes is transparently idiotic. I don’t know why it continues to pull casting stunts with HBO veterans — all rise for the Honorable Yellow King presiding, for example. I can’t even begin to fathom its fascination with John Stone’s feet — maybe the single biggest discrepancy between the time and effort placed into a plot element by a show and its emotional, thematic, and narrative payoff for the audience. For me, at least, the mystery at the center of The Night Of — including last night’s episode, “Samson and Delilah” — is what the hell The Night Of is trying to do. For a miniseries that’s 75% complete, that’s a bad place to be.

I reviewed this week’s baffling The Night Of for Decider.


“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme”

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

And while Angela tries to eat away at E Corp’s rotten apple from the inside, the F.B.I. agent Dom DiPierro is chasing her down a wormhole. Very nearly catching fsociety’s inside woman in the act of helping Darlene hack the bureau’s computers, DiPierro remains confident all the same, last seen jauntily striding through the F.B.I.’s makeshift headquarters in the company tower with her “Kojak”-style lollipop.

Grace Gummer stands out in this accomplished cast for her portrayal of DiPierro because, even if (as we’ve seen) she suffers from the same information-age ennui as everyone else, her character is in the business of dragging secrets into the open, not covering them up or creating new ones. Her crisp, confident tones and relative ease among her co-workers and subordinates is a world away from Elliot’s paranoid tension, Angela’s fake-it-till-you-make-it code-switching and Darlene’s studied surliness. With characters this well drawn and carefully framed, “Mr. Robot” can flip the world on its head as often as it likes. The really important things remain constant.

I reviewed tonight’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times, trying to make the point that the show’s big twists and shocking reveals are the icing, not the cake.


The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 53!

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

The Theory of Everything: Analyzing Popular Theories from a Narrative & Thematic Perspective, Part II (A Patreon Production)

One of our most requested episode formats is back, thanks to our loyal patrons! Subscribers to our Patreon have selected the topic of this episode, a sequel to a much-loved previous installment in which we took a look at prominent fan theories not just in terms of whether they’re possible or even plausible, but whether they make sense in the framework of the kind of story George R.R. Martin is trying to tell and his overall vibe as a writer. This time around, the individual topics have been pitched in by our patrons as well, and there’s a wide range, from what we think happened at Summerhall to whether we believe Bran is essentially a godlike figure to which fool we like best. Give it a listen, and if you like what you here, become a Patreon contributor so you can select future podcast topics yourself!

Download Episode 53

Additional links:

The Theory of Everything, Part I

Our Vulture article on the biggest fan theories

Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour

Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).

Our iTunes page.

Mirror.

Previous episodes.

Podcast RSS feed.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.


Let Us Play: Comics Artist Dame Darcy on Her Mind-Blowing “Meat Cake Bible”

Friday, August 12th, 2016

My partner is a cartoonist, and she once said that Meat Cake was hugely important to all the weird girls she knew in her teens and early 20s, but the male comic nerds she met afterwards had no clue what she was talking about. Have you noticed this disparity as well? To what would you attribute it?

That statement brings a tear to my eye, knowing my life’s goal was not in vain. Thank you.

As a kid I hated that even on Sesame Street, everyone was a boy. Actually, I thought Big Bird was a girl, but in the end he was gay and I was mistaken. The only time girls showed up in things was as sex objects — except for Pippi Longstocking and Wonder Woman — and they rarely ever got any good dialogue. Meat Cake set out to change all that, and make something weird and thinking girls could relate to. I felt so alone for so long, and I made a beacon like a lighthouse to shine through the darkness and attract the bats of other like-minded souls.

It is my life’s goal and pleasure to encourage other girls, ladies, anyone to be who they are, to find their true passion and pursue their hearts desire with freedom in their soul despite all odds. In Oz and Cinderella, I always identified as Glinda and the Fairy Godmother, even as a kid. I like how Glinda doesn’t just wave her wand and whisk Dorothy home, even though she could. She gives her glamorous shoes and Dorothy uses them to find her own way. And through magic glamour and DIY elbow grease, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother turns the normal pumpkin into a couture carriage vehicle to empower the young lady to change her life. If my artwork can be this for someone else, then my will here in this mortal plane is done.

I interviewed cartoonist Dame Darcy about her new complete-works collection Meat Cake Bible for the New York Observer.


“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “eps2.4_m4ster-s1ave.aes”

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Using the uncanny, ugly cheeriness of vintage sitcoms as an ironic locus of fear has been done before, certainly, from Adult Swim’s viral hit Too Many Cooks to the still-harrowing “I Love Mallory” sequence from Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” featuring Rodney Dangerfield as a monstrous abusive father. But “Mr. Robot” is neither an 11-minute one-off on YouTube nor a single segment in a collagist media satire. It’s a prestige drama during a time when that’s seen as somewhat degraded currency. And Sam Esmail, its creator, showrunner and director, is cashing in the clout he earned with the series’ surprise-hit first season by opening this episode — a follow-up to last week’s first action-packed episode of the season — with a 17-minute TGIF pastiche.

The proximate cause is Elliot’s retreat into a fantasy world constructed for him by his hallucinatory father as an escape from the beating he’s taking from Ray’s goons, but the go-for-broke attitude stands on its own. In both respects it’s reminiscent of the masterful, uncategorizable Kevin Finnerty episodes of “The Sopranos”; in both cases it’s a sign of a show that totally believes in itself. That kind of confidence is breathtaking to watch.

I reviewed this week’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times. This show is leaving it all out on the field this season; trust no one who tells you otherwise.


“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Five: “The Season of the Witch”

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Of all the ways prestige cable dramas could redress the woeful full-frontal-nudity gender imbalance — and I’m sure we’ve all thought of several, many of them involving Kit Harington — using the penis of a dead, nude black man for a raunchy bit of prop comedy is probably last on the list. And yet! This is the road The Night Of has chosen to go down. In “The Season of the Witch,” overall the series’ most awkward combination of hardcore crime drama and gross-out humor to date, a district attorney and a medical examiner debate the origin of a knife wound in a photograph placed, for no apparent reason other than laughs, next to the exposed genitalia of a corpse in the middle of getting the fluids from its eyeballs and bladder drained. Shit, I’ve already complained about the overabundance of sexualized shots of the unclothed body of the female murder victim at the heart of the story; “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” is not the remedy I had in mind.

And hey, this isn’t even the only nude, brutalized black male body on display this week! Earlier in the episode, Naz is offered the opportunity of revenge against the man who burned him last week by his benefactor Freddy, who has the assailant naked, prostrate, and trapped in the showers. Naz gets a half-hearted kick or two in on his tormenter and is ready to walk away — until the man, unwisely given his circumstances at the time, taunts the kid as a “faggot.” Since there’s nothing more menacing than having your sexuality threatened by a black man, Naz goes berserk, pounding the guy into a bloody pulp until Freddy’s goons have to pull him off to keep him from committing “another” murder. Later, Freddy expresses admiration for the “secrets and rage” that motivate his new apprentice; this conversation, at least, does not take place in front of a dead or injured person’s penis for no apparent reason, so thank heaven for small favors.

I had real problems with last Sunday’s The Night Of, which I reviewed for Decider.


Buy my books!

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

I reopened my old Amazon marketplace store with great deals on great books & comics from me & Julia Gfrörer’s merged collections. Check it out! More will be added in the days and weeks to come, so keep your eyes peeled!


“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc”

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

“Have you ever wondered how the world would look if the 5/9 had never happened? How the world would look right now?” This question is being posed by a minister of the Chinese state security to a guest attending a party in his home, a young F.B.I. agent who’s investigating the attacks to which he’s referring. They’re standing before a closet full of amazingly intricate women’s dresses. He says they belong to his sister. He does not have a sister.

“In fact, some believe there are alternate realities playing out that very scenario,” he continues, “with other lives that we’re leading, other people that we’ve become.” His smiling eyes welling with tears, he pauses for breath. “The contemplation,” he concludes with a lump in his throat and a slight, self-effacing laugh, “moves me very deeply.”

As well it should. This may be the high-ranking official charged with heading the E Corp hack on Chinese soil, but this, we’ve learned, is a secret identity no closer to the mark than Clark Kent is to Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton. She is really Whiterose, the transgender woman who leads the lethal cyberterrorism organization the Dark Army. On both sides of her secret life she wields tremendous power, power which she will unleash the next day in the form of a mass shooting that wipes out nearly the entire F.B.I. contingent tracing the hack.

But in this moment, with these words, it’s clear she wants nothing so much as to end the fiction of the fake sister and shed the male-presenting mask once and for all. The sequence is a variation on the Bluebeard fairy tale, but the locked room is full not of the bodies of women Whiterose has killed, but the dresses of the woman she wishes she could always be. If you’ve ever been momentarily overcome by the profound power of a beautiful, impossible ideal, you’ll recognize its effects etched into the actor B D Wong’s face and echoing in his quavering voice. On “Mr. Robot,” even supervillains suffer.

I’m proud of this passage from my review of last night’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times.


“Preacher” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “Call and Response”

Monday, August 1st, 2016

I’ve never seen a show fail as spectacularly as Preacher did in its Season One finale. I mean that in every sense of the phrase, honestly. As is the show’s custom, “Call and Response” went as far as it could possibly go, then pushed even farther. Graphic violence of virtually every variety, narrative zig-zags and head-fakes and dead-ends that would make Lost go “now hold the phone,” gross-out moments as stomach-churning as a basic-cable show can get, more tragically hip music cues than a mid-‘90s Miramax movie soundtrack, a complete and total abandonment of taste, decorum, or even just the sensible fear of being corny as hell: Preacher has always been willing to go for it, and went for it the finale did. It just so happens to have gone for the goddamn face of a cliff. It was spectacular, yes. It was also a failure. A complete, total, spectacular failure.

I’ve simply never seen anything like last night’s episode of Preacher. I did my best to explain what I mean in my review for the New York Observer.


“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Four: “The Art of War”

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Say what you will about what happens in this week’s The Night Of: At least you can see it, for a change. Titled “The Art of War,” this episode was directed by The Theory of Everything and Man on Wire’s James Marsh — the only episode in the series not helmed by co-creator and, as of next week’s installment, co-writer Steven Zaillian. Marsh eschews the ostentatious, obfuscatory camerawork that has marked Zaillian’s contributions: no characters talking while out of focus, no shots of the back of people’s heads, no endless series of close-ups of inanimate objects, no random portraiture of brick walls or puddles. When he does isolate elements of the setting — a dripping hot-water faucet, cigarette smoke wafting up to the ceiling, the harsh overhead lights of the cellblock — these shots have meaning to the characters. You can, and probably should, complain that that meaning is getting doled out with a trowel (the episode ends with a shot of smoke right after Naz makes a deal with the devil! Get it???), but it sure beats spending multiple minutes of screentime zoomed in on the corners of tables just to prove that this is a gritty environment, or whatever.

There’s good news and bad news about last night’s The Night Of. The good news is above. The bad news you can read in my review for Decider.


John C. Reilly Is Giving One of the Best Performances in TV Comedy Today

Friday, July 29th, 2016

It starts with the character’s look. Reilly’s physical appearance has always served him well as an actor. There’s something about the combination of his large frame and round, expressive face that makes him look not so much tall as overgrown, like a child stretched to adult proportions. This gives him an air of vulnerability that belies his size; it lends pathos to his dramatic performances, like the sad-sack cop in Magnolia, and a goofball naïveté to his comedic turns, like the fake music legend in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.  It’s how a guy who’s six-foot-two can sing the ode to interpersonal invisibility “Mr. Cellophane” in the film adaptation ofChicago and earn an Oscar nomination, or pair up with the relatively diminutive Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights and come across like a natural sidekick.

In these strictly physical terms alone, Dr. Steve is his magnum opus, the idiot man-child he was born to play. Wearing a brown suit that’s at least two sizes too small, teasing his curly hair to fright-wig proportions, twisting his mouth and squinting his eyes to give his face a vibe of permanent confusion, Reilly leans into his quirks as Dr. Steve.

I wrote about how John C. Reilly’s turn as the title character on Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule is one of the best dang performances in TV comedy today for Vulture. I’ve been saying it for years and I’m so glad I got the chance to obsess on it publicly.


“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “eps2.2_init1.asec”

Friday, July 29th, 2016

One of the most fascinating aspects of “Mr. Robot” has been its ability to capture the moment — whether airing its series premiere days after the revelation of a massive breach of United States government computer systems, or postponing its Season 1 finale because of a real-world shooting — despite being made months in advance of the news. So it feels right for the show to seize the pop culture moment as well. Thus, even as Netflix’s 1980s horror homage “Stranger Things” becomes one of the streaming service’s buzziest shows of the year, this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot” opens with a paean to getting high and reliving the fright flicks of your youth.

In the opening flashback scene, set immediately before the events of the first season, Elliot and Darlene celebrate an impromptu family reunion by watching a fictional slasher film called “The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie.” (Luis Buñuel and Tobe Hooper, call your lawyers.) It turns out that movie’s rich-kid-targeting killer wore the moneyman mask eventually embraced by fsociety as its symbol. Sure enough, when Elliot tries on a copy provided to him by his sister as a gag, the monster is unleashed. His posture straightens, his low-energy voice grows raspier and more strident, his Rs harden and his vowels sharpen into the distinctive vocal cadence of the actor Christian Slater. Elliot’s not here anymore — we’re looking at and listening to Mr. Robot.

The transformation’s so striking that I wondered if the two performers’ voices had been digitally blended; I might have thought the actors themselves had been switched, if Mr. Malek’s eyes weren’t so big and bright they could be seen clearly through the eyeholes of the mask. The horror movie orchestral music cue that accompanies the appearance of the “Mr. Robot” logo in the credits completes the uncanny effect.

I reviewed this week’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times. This show has reached Hannibal levels of speaking in a cinematic language of its own devising. Don’t believe anyone who tells you this isn’t a great thing.


“Preacher” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Finish the Song”

Monday, July 25th, 2016

I’ve been hard on Preacher, and that’s never been harder on me than this week. By any objective measure last night’s episode, “Finish the Song,” ended with the sort of sheer convention-shredding narrative audacity every TV critic worth their salt would commit at least a misdemeanor offense to see more often. It’s actually heartbreaking to how far the show is willing to go, and how hard it works to get there, only to watch it fall short again.

Preacher made one of the boldest storytelling decisions I’ve ever seen on TV, and it still didn’t work. I tried really hard to unpack why in my review of this week’s episode for the New York Observer.