Posts Tagged ‘decider’

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00”

November 13, 2017

Over the course of its commercial-free runtime, “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00” hits a quartet of long-running narrative climaxes: Elliot learns that Darlene has betrayed him to the FBI and Angela has betrayed him to his Mr. Robot persona, while the Dark Army clears a path for its lethal “Stage 2” plan as its scheme for China to annex the Congo achieves success.

And it does so, as becomes increasingly obvious with each passing minute, in a single uninterrupted take. Whether gliding along with Elliot via steadicam as he tries to avoid being ejected by E Corp security in the episode’s first half or jittering around with Angela via a handheld camera as she races to install hack the conglomerate’s backup facility in the second half — the transition marked by the start of a Dark Army–instigated activist riot inside E Corp’s stately Manhattan headquarters — the action flows continuously from start to finish.

But don’t get so sucked into the technique that you simply coast on conventional wisdom about what long takes, or even “oners” like Rope, Birdman, and that one X-Filesepisode, are supposed to do. Sure, there are the usual peek-around-corners, cat-and-mouse thrills you associate with long takes from time to time, whether it’s Elliot doing a oner version of the Neo-in-The-Matrix routine, dodging security guards through a sea of cubicles and goldfish bowls, or Angela on that Clive Owen tip, fighting her way through the chaos of battle. But the thing is, there aren’t really any bravura, standout segments of the take — nothing on the level of Children of Men’s backwards car chase, True Detective’s shootout, Better Call Saul’s smuggler truck route, Game of Thrones’s 360-degree battle at Castle Black, or (the holiest of holies) GoodFellas’s Copacabana entrance, where you sit back and marvel at how they could keep it going so far for so long. Indeed, with the exception of the visceral thrill you (or at least I) get when Dark Army agents in activist drag first storm the building like an anticapitalist fever dream, the most memorable moments don’t involve motion at all. By employing a long take, the show is paradoxically even better able to emphasize the times when nothing is happening and no one is going anywhere.

I reviewed last week’s much-hyped (both positively and negatively) single-take episode of Mr. Robot for Decider. I really don’t think it does what long takes usually do, which makes it more compelling than the “wow how’d they do it” takes would suggest and belies the “ugh empty film-geek gimmickry” criticism too.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “eps3.3_m3tadata.chk”

November 3, 2017

It’s all gussied up in cyberthriller drag, but what Mr. Robot is now really forcing us to confront is whether or not bringing down the hypercapitalist backers of American hegemony — ending its endless death dance of credit-card debt and drone strikes — is worth the risk, and the cost. Who is the hero of this story? Elliot, with his humane reluctance to kill? Or Mr. Robot and those conspiring with him to keep Elliot down, with their insistence that in this case, killing is humane? Placing Elliot’s good-hearted, if broken-spirited, friend Angela on the side of the sociopaths is an indication that Mr. Robot sees this question as harder to answer than it looks.

How should we see it, though? How do we see it? Who’s seeing it at all? Normally I don’t pay much attention to how a given show I care about is going over with the general viewing public, mostly because I don’t give a shit. In a world where we can get four miraculous seasons of Halt and Catch Fire despite an audience size not much larger than the cast, how much does it really matter? I’m much more concerned about shows I dislike (the empty Reaganite culture recycling of Stranger Things, the fascism of The Walking Dead) getting more attention than they deserve than shows I like getting less.

But I am curious about how this season of Mr. Robot is playing with the people who are watching it, and the people who watched the first two seasons (in varying quantities) as well. There’s a bleak, enervated energy to this year’s run so far that resonates so closely with the relentless awfulness of life under the Trump regime that I wonder if it’s hard for some viewers to take — like two notes nearly identical in pitch but off just slightly enough to become discordant and abrasive.

Though this season has been both stylistically and narratively straightforward compared to the previous outings, it’s no less challenging a viewing experience. Watching it so far, this episode included, feels like wandering around a big empty room, where the walls are gray and your voice falls flat and the light is an eye-clouding haze and rising up from the floor is the faint but unmistakable smell of death. Tonight’s episode ended to the tune of Elliott (ahem) Smith’s grindingly grim “Everything Means Nothing to Me,” a song he wrote while blood from a self-inflicted injury was literally dripping on to the keys of the piano he was playing, from the final album he released before he is believed to have stabbed himself to death. If you’re of a certain mindset that values the catharsis of hopelessness, this can be a nice place to visit. Mr. Robot is asking you to live there.

I wrote about death, hopelessness, and the most recent episode of Mr. Robot for Decider.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “eps3.2_1egacy.so”

October 27, 2017

Aside from the unusual time-jumping, it’s one of the most narratively straightforward episodes of Mr. Robot since Season One. It just gets you from point A to point B, is all, even if it had to backtrack a bit to do so. It satisfies a narrative itch, nothing more.

Primarily, it’s a showcase for Martin Wallström as Tyrell Wellick. The character and performance alike have their diehard partisans and their dismissive detractors. For my money, when you add Tyrell’s mental, moral, and professional collapse to his fixation on doing right by both his family and the man of his dreams, you get a whole different sort of sociopath from either the Patrick Bateman one-percenter murderers or the Phillip Price/Whiterose puppetmasters. Wallström lacks the golfball-sized convex eyes of his castmates Rami Malek, Portia Doubleday, and Carly Chaikin, but man those things are blue, and the person behind them seems to be in almost agonizing psychological pain at all times.

That’s the key to Tyrell Wellick, really. Despite being one of the ostensible archvillains of the piece, he’s more emotionally open and expressive than any of the fsociety “good guys”—Elliot, Angela, Darlene, Cisco, even Mr. Robot himself. He’s the only one who embodies the sense of dislocation and terror on a permanent basis that characters like Elliot and Darlene can only access during acute breakdowns. In a weird way, he’s the heart of the show, and that heart is warped as hell. In that light, the standard-issue storytelling of the episode can be forgiven, even if you suspect it’s part of a slight creative retrenchment in the face of the vituperative reaction to the show’s fearless fuck-you of a second season. A character this peculiar can take all the time to fill in the blanks he needs.

I reviewed this week’s backtracking episode of Mr. Robot for Decider. 

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “eps3.1_undo.gzh”

October 20, 2017

Now, however, Elliot’s mission is reform rather than revolution. In this new worldview, “Evil Corp” is “a necessary evil that just needs to be kept in check.” Get rid of “the corrupt, moronic managers” — “purge Evil Corp of all their shitbags” — and the company will “no longer be evil, because changing the world is never about tearing E Corp down — it’s about making them better.”  These could be Obama or Clinton campaign slogans. Meanwhile, of course, CEO Phillip Price is igniting a global currency war with China in order to make himself the supreme ruler of the world’s economy. Elliot’s reformist bromides are the kind of technocratic liberal bullshit we’ve been hearing for the better part of a decade as the entire planet goes to shit and billionaires fund fascist takeovers. The sequence is a savage own of empty centrism, just as Elliot’s dismissal of his previous motives as “dorm-room philosophizing” is a fuck you to critics who levied that charge at the show. Look around you, folks. The dorm-room philosophers were right.

I reviewed this week’s vicious episode of Mr. Robot for Decider.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “Call It Sleep”

October 20, 2017

Honestly, it’s a minor miracle that a finale so clearly designed to set up a second season, let alone lead to the feature film for which the whole affair serves as a prequel, is this rich and challenging. But Suburra has been punching above its weight class from the jump. With any luck, this gorgeous, big-hearted, marvelously acted gangster story will find the word-of-mouth audience it deserves. Take a bow, you crazy kids. You’ve earned it.

I reviewed the season finale of Suburra: Blood on Rome for Decider. Man was this thing a hoot!

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Pitch Black”

October 20, 2017

“Pitch Black,” the penultimate episode of the show’s first season, cements my already firm belief that this is the best crime show Netflix has done by a mile. When you see the kinds of emotional climaxes Suburra can deliver for its main characters despite the fact that nearly all of them are likeable, even lovable, you have to wonder if it’s working so well because nearly all of them are likeable, even lovable, and not despite it at all.

This runs counter to the approach of nearly every post–Breaking Bad crime thriller on television. The best ones, like Breaking Bad itself, work hard to make their characters empathetic on some level, but they want you to think “christ, what a fucking bastard” as often as possible. The mediocre-to-shitty ones don’t have the depth to do empathy, so you wind up with a lot of miserable assholes grimacing all the time between horrible murders. Aureliano, Spadino, and Lele have all done their fair share of frowning and yelling and crying, but any single one of them has visibly enjoyed themselves on screen — not sociopathically, at the expense of others, but simply delighting in one another’s company — more than the equivalent players on every other Netflix crime saga combined. That gives Suburra a leg up on even its relatively solid sister series, like Ozark or Narcos or even Daredevil. These people have a lust for life, dammit, which gives their life and death struggles an irresistible magnetic charge.

I reviewed episode nine of Suburra: Blood on Rome for Decider. I’m telling you folks, whatever other Netflix show you’re watching, you’ll have a better time watching this one, I promise.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “A New Man”

October 19, 2017

Well, that was fast. As predicted, Suburra: Blood on Rome’s relatively placid seventh episode was just the calm before the storm. “A New Man,” its eighth installment, ends the breather by piling up the betrayals, revelations, and patricide so high that you practically need to blackmail the Vatican for a building permit. We’re getting close to the end now, and it shows.

I reviewed episode eight of Suburra: Blood on Rome for Decider. This show fuckin’ rules.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Last Customer”

October 17, 2017

Episode seven in fact marks a significant slowdown in the heretofore breakneck speed of the story. A calm before the storm? Perhaps. Whatever the case, it’s more about consolidating the status quo than shaking things up….That’s not to say that it’s boring. Come on, this is Suburra—it doesn’t do boring.

Not a ton to say about episode seven of Suburra: Blood on Rome, which I reviewed for Decider. But the review contains some gifs that’ll show you what I mean about how the show’s visual component makes it feel alive even in a breather of an episode like this one.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episodes Nine and Ten: “Search” and “Ten of Swords”

October 16, 2017

Halt and Catch Fire is one of the best shows ever made. Judging from the reaction to its two-part series finale this weekend, that’s uncontroversial now, which is an amazing thing to contemplate. From its rough start in Season One to its skin-of-the-teeth renewals for each subsequent year to its status as a critics’ darling that far too few people other than critics were talking about (and even critics let down the side a bit at the beginning of this season), it felt like the Little Engine That Almost Could. But there’s never been a show like it: generous of spirit toward its characters, yet always ruthless about their shortcomings and never sappy in its optimism that they might overcome them. Rooted in genuine moral dilemmas—not black and white choices, not even the shades of gray “I know it’s not the right thing but kinda I want to” stuff of the best antihero shows, but legitimately difficult choices between two strong options, neither of which is a sure thing. The sense that for all its focus on transformative technological advances and for all its temporal and geographical sweep (its four short seasons began in Texas 1981 and ended in California 1994), it all could have taken place in a single room between five characters. Co-creators Christopher Cantwell & Christopher C. Rogers and actors Kerry Bishé, Mackenzie Davis, Toby Huss, Scoot McNairy, and Lee Pace did what their characters could never quite do but never stopped dreaming of doing: They built something that will last.

[…]

I had another TV dream. They don’t happen frequently, but when they do they’re usually about a show that’s got me on the edge of my seat with anticipation for its next episode—a season finale, say, or the next installment in a particularly momentous stretch of the story. When they happen, my brain will conjure up an entire imaginary episode from the ether and play it for me, start to finish, as I “watch.” This has happened to me with shows I loved: The Sopranos, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, Lost. It’s happened with shows I didn’t love, too: True DetectiveSeason One was never one of my favorites, but I dreamed not one but two separate terrifying season finales in a single night, so it must have done something right.

But this one was unlike the others. It happened after I’d watched “Search” and “Ten of Swords,” the two-part series finale of Halt and Catch Fire. I went to bed late that night—early that morning, really—and dreamed I was at a cafeteria in midtown Manhattan. I was getting lunch with old friends, beloved coworkers from a job I had ten years ago, who were in town for a convention. Our awful old boss was there too, I guess because we couldn’t think of a way to get rid of him.

Suddenly I feel a tap on the shoulder and hear a cheerful greeting, I turn to my left and see Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace from Halt and Catch Fire sitting down to join me. It’s after the finale aired, and they’re all smiles. They just wanted to thank me for my writing about the show over the years. I turn to hug Scoot and congratulate him on the work they’d all done, then reach across him to shake Lee’s hand; the handshake gets weirdly botched and we joke about it as we try again. Turning to my coworkers (and studiously avoiding my old awful boss) I gesture to the two actors. “These are my friends,” I say.

Then I woke up.

I reviewed the series finale of Halt and Catch Fire, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, for Decider. Writing about this show for the past four years has been one of the great pleasures of my career. I’m so grateful to everyone who made it possible.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome,” Season One, Episode Six: “Garlic, Oil, and Chili Pepper”

October 16, 2017

You’re not watching Suburra to find out who comes out on top of this particular dirty deal; let’s face it, the show only gives you rooting interest in the young guns….Rather, you’re watching Suburra just to watch it — to see three incredibly handsome dudes try to pull one over on the world in a series of striking shot compositions across the length and breadth of the Eternal City.

I reviewed the sixth episode of Suburra: Blood on Rome, which you should probably be watching instead of whatever other Netflix show you’re watching, for Decider.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “eps3.0_power-saver-mode”

October 14, 2017

That’s why I insist to this day Mr. Robot Season Two was a tremendous creative success. With the possible exception of Game of Thrones and its allegorical brutality, no show on television last year had the courage to be so honestly discouraged by human nature. That pessimism proved prophetic just a few months later, when Donald Trump’s installation as president ushered in a wave of corporate rapaciousness and white-nationalist belligerence by which we all continue to be battered day after day. Trump and the forces he represents didn’t come out of nowhere, though. While the rest of TV culture was consumed by a dozen different adorkable sitcoms and the Reaganite nostalgia of Stranger ThingsMr. Robot blazed a bleaker, truer path.

In this relatively low-key premiere, that’s the path it continues to tread.

I reviewed this week’s season premiere of Mr. Robot for Decider. I know I said it’s low-key, but there’s one major exception. Let’s put it this way: Here’s how I started the review…

Did…did Mr. Robot just do what I think it did?

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “She Wolf”

October 14, 2017

At the risk of constructing an inelegant metaphor, what do you do when you it a pothole in your plot? Here’s one strategy: Put the pedal to the metal and just drive right the hell on. That’s the approach adopted by Suburra: Blood on Rome.

I reviewed episode 5 of Suburra: Blood on Rome for Decider. My concerns about the previous episode evaporated almost instantly.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Rabid Dogs”

October 14, 2017

I believe it Chekhov who said that if you introduce a dog in the first episode, you have to shoot it by the third.

I reviewed episode three of Suburra, which is a lot of fun, for Decider.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eight: “Goodwill”

October 9, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

Halt and Catch Fire is, or was, a drama about the tech industry. Not this week, though. “Goodwill,” one of the most important and best episodes of the entire series, goes by with no tech talk whatsoever. The various enterprises that meant so much to the characters, that consumed so much of their lives, are mentioned, in passing, a grand total of three times. The Symphonic, the Giant, Comet — they each get a line or two, all of them vague allusions to something that once happened in the past or might happen in the future. In the end they were just a platform on which something much more important was built: life, and the connections the series’ main characters made during its course. For Gordon Clark, that life has run its course. That’s all his family, his friends, and the show that brought them to us care about anymore.

In that light, this epochal episode is a stunt on the order of one of Game of Thrones’ big battle setpieces or Breaking Bad’s action and suspense thrillers. Written by Zack Whedon and directed by series co-creator Christopher Cantwell, it’s a confident, courageous demonstration of the show’s strengths, which from around the end of Season One onward have been on display like a product at a computer-industry convention. The tech stuff served as the series’ hook, its anchor, and, in the sense that the characters had to navigate the same Scylla-and-Charybdis passage between creativity and commerce as its creators, its allegory. Now, at Halt’s deepest and darkest moment, it takes a back seat to the thing at which the show has always proven most adept: depicting the relationships between people who have no more of a straightforward story arc, and no greater supply of easy answers, than any of us watching it do.

I reviewed this week’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire, a major achievement and perhaps the show’s best, for Decider.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Plebes and Patricians”

October 9, 2017

When I reviewed the series premiere of Suburra: Blood on Rome the other day I made a big deal about how its complicated organized-crime narrative’s many moving parts would probably crowd out the show’s potential with the need to burn through as much plot per episode as possible. There’s a professional reason for that. When you review TV shows for a living you’re not just reviewing the show in question, no matter how hard you try to make that happen — you’re reviewing it against other shows of its kind, and other shows not of its kind, and your overall understanding of how shows work generally. The Netflix release model, which basically opens up a spigot and blasts “Because you watched…” algorithms directly into your piehole, makes dealing with this all the more difficult. If the network is shoving shows down your gullet based on what it thinks you think about other shows, how can you not think about them yourself?

Folks, I goofed. But hey, it happens! I’ll try not to beat myself up about it.

As far as I can tell from its second installment, “Plebes and Patricians,” Suburra rules. When Netflix crime shows from Ozark Season One to Narcos Season Two dutifully but unimaginatively hit genre notes in their first few episodes, keeping you wishing and hoping for a payoff down the line, this fuckin’ thing delivers straight out the gate.

And yeah, I see the contradiction here. After admitting that comparing Suburra to other shows clouded my judgment after the pilot, I’m changing my tune based on…comparing Suburra to other shows. Oh well! As a critic, I’m in the liking-things business — that’s honestly how I see it, which is what makes middling work such a bummer for me. (Though it can be fun to write about.) If I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of enthusiasm. Not the kind of enthusiasm that inflates everything into a masterpiece or a life-lesson dispenser — that’s a problem of its own — but the “wheeeeeee, this is fun!” kind. Suburra serves that up by the bucketload.

The thing about roller-coaster rides is that if everything feels weightless, there’s no ride worth taking. You need to feel the weight of the car as you take the plunge, and the sturdiness of the track as it shakes beneath you. I think that’s where Suburra is distinguishing itself most.

Enjoying the hell out of Suburra at the moment. Here’s my review of the second episode for Decider.

“Suburra: Blood on Rome” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “21 Days”

October 6, 2017

The first thing you notice about Suburra: Blood on RomeNetflix’s new Italian crime drama, is…well, let’s be frank here. It’s the gigantic coke-fueled priest orgy.

The second thing you notice is that the men on the show are incredibly handsome.

I’m covering Suburra for Decider, starting with this review of the series premiere. The cast is stunning and the score, by Loscil, is lush like little else on TV right now. Worth a look!

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven: “Who Needs a Guy”

October 2, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

Extraordinary even by the series’ own elevated standards, “Who Needs a Guy” provided the crushing payoff for four years of Halt and Catch Fire. It’s not the first time the show has tugged on its many strings until they all either knotted or came apart in a single scene; the conference-room battle between Cameron and Donna last year comes to mind just for starters. Nor is it the first time the show has handled a character’s death with sensitivity but without sentimentality; again, it did so last season with the suicide of Joe’s apprentice Ryan. But it is the first time these two strengths have been combined, and the effect is stunning, like getting hit with a feather and, somehow, being knocked clear across the room. Written by Lisa Albert and directed by Tricia Brock — both of whom effectively abdicate the episode’s awful final minutes to the show’s surviving core cast, about the smartest thing a writer and director could do — it’s one of the hours we’ll turn to when we want to make the case that Halt and Catch Fire is one of the finest dramas of the prestige-TV era. It left me a wreck for hours. I’m still gutted. I loved it.

I reviewed this weekend’s absolutely stunning episode of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Six: “A Connection Is Made”

September 27, 2017

This weekend I was tweeting excitedly about how good Halt and Catch Fire is. A friend, no stranger to the world of TV drama, replied, “It’s back???” This speaks poorly of how the critical community is covering Halt and Catch Fire. As of this week’s episode, “A Connection Is Made,” it’s one of the richest, loveliest, most unsparing, most humane dramas of the year. And think about the year of dramas we’ve had! We should never, ever shut up about this thing.

I wrote about this weekend’s sumptuous Halt and Catch Fire for Decider.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Five: “Nowhere Man”

September 24, 2017

In the closing montage, Donna loads up Cameron’s infamously difficult video game, while Gordon digs up the painstakingly maintained journals he’d been keeping of his deteriorative brain condition’s progress. Donna cracks the code that had thwarted so many players: Instead of trying to choose a path forward, you move upward instead, beginning a beautiful journey that leads you back home. As she does this, Gordon takes his journals and throws them into the fireplace, seemingly determined to live in the now and stop worrying about the future altogether. The accompaniment for the sequence is PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me,” a song in which Harvey simultaneously brags about how she’s so irresistible her ex will never want to be free of her, but will wish he never met her all the while. Sound familiar?

I reviewed last week’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider. This week’s review coming soon.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “Going Back to Cali”

September 18, 2017

The finale of Narcos Season 2 was the best episode of the series. The finale of Narcos Season Three…isn’t.

…yeah. I reviewed the disappointing finale of Narcos’ aimless third season for Decider.