Posts Tagged ‘decider’
The irony is that Noah’s now vastly more complicated backstory feels as though it were developed to answer complaints about the character. Without knowing how long ago showrunner Sarah Treem planned these plot elements this is all sheer speculation, but for viewers who wondered why Noah would destroy his seemingly happy family for a shot at spontaneity, or why he’d sacrifice himself and go to jail to protect Helen and Alison when it was quite possible all of them could have gotten away with it, or why his relationships with women seem both sincerely intense and self-sabotaging, or why he swung from the supremely self-possessed Helen to the deeply damaged Alison — well, Noah convincing himself he’s somehow culpable for killing his mother after being the only person left to take care of her and then failing to kill himself in turn threads the needle quite nicely.
Is it all a bit radioactive-spider origin story for a behavior pattern that’s not really that difficult to contextualize? Perhaps. But then again anyone who’s been in therapy for long enough can attest to those “holy shit, it was because of what happened at my cousin’s confirmation when I was in fourth grade!!!!” moments. Giving Noah these dark secrets doesn’t take away his agency or explain away his good and bad qualities, nor do they singlehandedly make those things possible. They’re simply the building blocks out of which he constructed the rest of his life.
2016 was a nightmarish year, less for all the horrific things that happened than for the promise, the promise, of still worse things to come. And what were our guides through the blood and the shit? “Make America Great Again” on one hand and “America Is Already Great” on the other. Horace and Pete is by no means a good show, when all is said and done. But in a TV-critical environment with an insatiable, anesthetizing hunger for affirmation and uplift, it stood with Mr. Robot and Game of Thrones and not a whole lot of other shows at all and said “Fuck that.” History, provided we get one, will look favorably upon this. Is there a better, truer image for the year to end on than Horace and Pete‘s last line: a woman collapsed in on herself in grief, sobbing uncontrollably, screaming “Oh God”?
Unfortunately, the finale that led to this point was an utter catastrophe. If Louis C.K. had deliberately set out to make the worst possible Horace and Pete episode, he’d have been hard pressed to beat this turkey.
It’s really a shame. Laurie Metcalf, Rick Shapiro, Lucy Taylor, John Sharian, Tom Noonan, and occasionally Steve Buscemi were given moving material and worked wonders with it. Somewhere buried in this overwrought experiment is a quiet, thoughtful show about alcoholism, mental illness, loneliness, and failure. But that isn’t what we got at all.
Until the return of Tom Noonan as the bar’s towering, beret-wearing, piano-playing regular. After a Match.com date between a New Yorker staffer and a guy whose dad was an astronaut devolves into repeated, mutual screams of “YOU’RE NOT NICE! FUCK YOU!” (long story and not worth going into, though it should be noted this is the least worst of the show’s awkward-date asides), the gang at the bar explains why such dates never work out. Online dating services, Kurt and others argue, set people up according to shared interests, when what really connects couples is chemistry, up to and including the opposites-attract sort. But seeking out opposites doesn’t work either, because this kind of chemistry can’t be forced.
“That’s why they call it ‘falling’ in love,” Tom chimes in. “You can’t fall on purpose.” With a smile on his face, he tells the story of how he used to be an actor, and in one acting class he was trying to learn how to fall on cue without making it look like he was falling on cue. For him at least, this was impossible. “So I quit being an actor.” The little smile is still there, but its relationship to his emotions is now distressingly unclear. Tom’s point is this: “Well, you just accept…just accept the fact that love is rare and it probably won’t happen to you, ever.” “Is that what you do?” asks the New Yorker writer. “You just accept it?”
“No,” Tom replies, the smile flitting in and out of existence as he talks. “No, I…I walk around brokenhearted. And I, I get drunk and…I mean, I hate being alone. And…” Here the smile returns, as sad as fresh-dug grave. “And someday it’ll kill me.” I’ve now watched this scene twice, and each time I exhale sharply afterwards, like something really difficult to endure just happened to me. The contrast Noonan’s gentle bearing and his blunt despair is that powerful.
A low-key, simply structured episode despite the bombshell revelation at its center, Horace and Pete Episode 8 is the closest the show has come to finding a comfortable rhythm. Better late than never, I guess? Like Episode 7 before it, this installment doesn’t swing for the fences with “let’s cut the bullshit and get real” sociopolitical pontificating, nor does it artificially ratchet up the baseless interpersonal hostility it mistakes for drama. (For the most part, anyway: The pivotal doctor’s office scene begins with Horace and Pete sparring like grumpy children for no apparent reason.) It has some funny moments, some sad moments, some humane moments, Kurt Metzger’s hyperthyroidal ranting, and Paul Simon’s theme music. If this were what the show were like all the time it wouldn’t be half bad, though my sinking suspicion is that it’s the extravagant miserablism that suckered people into thinking it’s the best thing since sliced bread. But to paraphrase the song, hell no, I can’t complain about their problems.
Remember the drunk cancer fetishist who tries to pick up Sylvia? When she blows him off, he delivers a monologue in a halting half-stutter about how he’s used to being treated like he doesn’t exist. “I’m a person,” he insists. “I have a story.” His story is that he was forced to raise his kid brother, just two years his junior, when his parents left one night and never came back. Now his brother doesn’t even talk to him. “I struggle, so I appear weak,” the man says. “People don’t wanna look at the weak because it reminds them of their own weakness. But they don’t get is that when you see someone who’s struggling, they’re strong. Because the weak don’t struggle—they just die. Whatever you think of me, I’m alive. I’m alive.” I’m sorry, but this is fucking beautiful, beautiful writing, humane and empathetic like nothing else on the show save the Metcalf episode, and it cuts to the heart of Horace and Pete‘s alcoholic demimonde like nothing else has. Comedian Rick Shapiro’s brief, brilliant performance here is one of the things I’ll take from this show alongside Metcalf’s star turn and Paul Simon’s theme song, and I don’t expect to take much else.
The episode, and arguably the series thus far, reaches its nadir during its second half. (Once again, no “Intermission” title card marks the obvious separation; apparently consistency is the hobgoblin of better TV shows.) For some unfathomable reason, Pete invites Jenny to dinner a family with Horace and Sylvia in the apartment they now share above the bar. Despite the psychosis for which he takes daily medication, Pete has nonetheless been shown to be a better judge, and exemplar, of character than either of his siblings (or as Sylvia would insist, “siblings”); he and Jenny are both well aware of their relationship’s problematic optics under the best of circumstances. Why on earth would he subject this woman to these two irredeemably unpleasant people, other than lousy writing forcing his hand?
I reviewed the worst episode of Horace and Pete yet for Decider. Poor Steve Buscemi.
The rest of the wake is characterized by needless cruelty. Marsha is mean to everyone. Everyone is, in turn, mean to Marsha, who no longer has any real tie to the family, but sticks around long enough for a story about the history of her alcoholism and tweenage promiscuity, because no one on this show has ever had a happy moment in their lives. Sylvia, whose zeal to sell the bar derives at least in part from a desire to drive a stake through the heart of the intra-family misery it’s caused, is almost abusively vicious to her distraught daughter Brenda, who’s terrified of the cancer afflicting her mother. Horace’s daughter follows her cousin out the door, basically kissing the family goodbye until the next funeral. In an argument about selling the bar, Sylvia talks about splitting its likely $6 million sale price two ways, between her and Horace, instead of three ways, between her and Horace and Pete, despite having spent literally her entire life until a few weeks ago believing Pete was her brother. (Even if you’re willing to accept anyone being so shitty a person that they’d use the shock revelation of his true paternity as an excuse to cut him out of his life’s legacy, keep in mind the show already had Sylvia talking about a two-way split before said revelation. That’s plain bad writing.) “Anyone who gets through their forties without at least ten people hating them is an asshole,” Sylvia says to Horace while she convalesces from chemo in his apartment later on. “People hating you means you look out for yourself.” Whatever you say!
It was fun while it lasted. After the unexpected marvel of its Laurie Metcalf–anchored third episode, Horace and Pete returns to its strident and unfunny form, as if the stupid sexist joke with which that previous episode was needlessly wrapped up was where its heart was all along.
I won’t mince words: With the exception of a single, pivotal line (stay tuned), Horace and Pete‘s third episode is brilliant. Much—but surprisingly, not all—of the credit goes to Laurie Metcalf, guest starring as Horace’s ex-wife Sarah. Her presence here is fitting, in a way, as Roseanne, the blue-collar sitcom in which she co-starred as the title character’s singleton sister Jackie, is one of Horace and Pete‘s obvious tonal antecedents; her dual background in television comedy and down-and-dirty theater (she’s a Steppenwolf alum) makes her a natural choice for this hybrid project. And good God, she is quite simply brilliant. Indeed, the episode begins with a continuous nine-minute closeup on the actor as she tells a then-unseen interlocutor who turns out to be Horace the story of her second marriage to a younger widower and its slow crumbling in the face of her sexual desire for the man’s 84-year-old father. Honestly, there’s almost no amount of superlatives you can heap on her work here that would overstate the case. In an episode that’s (almost—again, stay tuned) a two-hander, her presence and power elevate the proceedings to a level I couldn’t see coming.
I’ll say this for Horace and Pete: It’s a show that has time for neither “Make America Great Again” nor “America Is Already Great.” This realization sunk in sometime around when Sylvia, Horace’s sister, began unsubtly guilting him into selling the family bar for the millions it could potentially net in the “air rights” to the vertical space above it in the skyscraping, skyrocketing Brooklyn real-estate market—all the better to offset the sky-high costs of the treatment she’ll have to undergo for her just-diagnosed breast cancer. “I feel like you’re using me,” he protests, and she agrees. “You’re my brother. Please let me use you, so that I don’t die, because cancer is fucking expensive.” America: land of the free, home of the people whose only hope to afford life-saving health care is gentrification and upward wealth redistribution. Horace and Pete theme-songwriter Paul Simon might have something to say about this, but perhaps his fellow New York Metro Area musician Lou Reed had it best: “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor—I’ll piss on ’em.”
Unfortunately, the affection I have for this aspect of the show feels more like the result of my own personal fanfic remake of Roseanne with Edie Falco in the title role than something earned by the show itself.
Is the scene between a college kid and an “older” woman (she’s clearly south of 40) he swiped right on Tinder just to have emotionless sex with really strong enough to justify its incongruity and running time? Does a subplot involving Marsha and her GoodFellas extra of a beau, a successful tire-store magnate who blanches at her alcoholic attachment to this particular watering hole over all the other attractions Brooklyn has to offer, offer anything other than the same flavor of misery in a different regional accident? Does Pete’s Tourette’s-afflicted hospital acquaintance represent a serious attempt to empathetically portray this particular illness, or is it just an excuse to shout racial slurs and curse words? When Uncle Pete makes fun of Horace for wetting his pants as a kid, or his daughter (Aidy Bryant, making the best of a thankless role) for being overweight, is he doing anything other than indulging a thirst for “oh no he didn’t/oh yes he did” cruelty? When Horace has a long mental conversation with a fantasy version of Marsha in which he justifies his most outré masturbatory fantasies, is this more than an author with a dubious reputation’s attempt to let himself off the hook?
And while this is a relatively minor problem, given how few of the dramatic fireworks it’s his responsibility to set off, Louis C.K.’s limitations as an actor are absolutely an obstacle. I know that he’s built up a formidable critical reputation with his all-but-DIY Louie, but try as I might, I’ve remained as immune to his charms as a performer as a woman in a hotel room. From where I’m sitting he has two facial expressions cum emotional poles, exhausted and bewildered; since every person and situation he encounters is exhausting and/or bewildering, he shuffles back and forth seemingly at random. C.K. is quite famously far from the first comedian-auteur to have a relatively restricted range of expression as an actor, but watching him here is like seeing Jerry Seinfeld try to write, direct, and star alongside the finest actors of his generation in Death of a Salesman. “What is the deal with despair?” My sinking suspicion is that a show this plodding and strident will not have the answer.
Finally, not every difference between Alison and Cole’s perspectives is as nuanced as how their argument and their kiss is handled. And I’m not just talking about the fact that Joanie has a pony at her party during Cole’s half of the episode and a freaking bronco during Alison’s. During Cole’s POV, he holds Luisa off and lets Alison comfort Joanie after the kid falls off the pony. During Alison’s, Luisa tends to Joanie while Cole tends to Alison herself, in the throes of a PTSD hallucination in which the fall is potentially lethal. (This is itself an echo of two versions of the same playground scene, one in which Cole sees Alison freak out and demand Joanie get down off the monkey bars, the other in which Alison powers through and lets Joanie walk on top from end to end even though Cole never notices.) Who took care of a wounded kid is not the kind of thing simple coloration of memory can alter that dramatically — we’re in the same territory here as we were during the pilot, when Alison either did or didn’t save Noah’s daughter from choking, or during the confrontation at gunpoint later in that first season, when Cole was either suicidal or homicidal. These kinds of discrepancies are maybe the most compelling thing about The Affair as a work of storytelling. Walt Whitman contained multitudes; The Affair implies that people contain multiverses.
I reviewed this week’s episode of The Affair for Decider. I could talk about this show all day. Someone has to!
Mixed in with all this, importantly, is Juliette’s revelation to Noah that she’s a) married to a b) older man whom she met when she was his student. The cycle of sleaze perpetuates itself, right? Ah, but things are never that simple on this show. When Juliette facetimes with her cuckolded husband back in France, we discover he’s not just older but elderly, and suffering from Alzheimer’s-induced memory loss and dementia. Suddenly the skeevy, predatory student-teacher sexual relationship the past several scenes have conjured in our minds is complicated by this picture of how such a romance can evolve through the years into something not merely mature but shot through with devastating sadness and loss. Juliette’s tears during her “conversation” with her husband and his nurse come laden with any number of possible regrets: mourning the man she used to know, remembering the heat of the forbidden they once shared but which is now barely recognizable, grieving over how much he’s suffering, regretting her infidelity, regretting that her ongoing marriage forces any sexual component of her life to be infidelity, wishing she’d slept with Noah and not Mike as part of that infidelity, wishing that her husband could still experience those same pleasures and desires…not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s more that’s of genuine human interest and experience going on in this single scene than Westworld can muster in any five-episode stretch.
I reviewed last night’s excellent episode of The Affair for Decider. This show’s capacity to surprise, delight, and fascinate just keeps growing.
The truly amazing thing about the episode is just how much life it can fit into this rubric. When you think about it, despite the proscriptive narrowness of its title, The Affair has encompassed an enormous panoply of emotions and experiences. Estrangement between parents and children of all generations and ages. The loss of a child. The end of multiple marriages. The allure of sex. The keeping of a horrible, life-ending secret. Poverty and wealth. The life of a small summer resort and the divide between townies and tourists. Writing, publishing, teaching. Booze, weed, and cutting as self-medication. That left-field storyline about the Lockharts’ murderer grandfather. The freaking restaurant business. That none of it feels forced, that all of it seems to emerge organically from the titular affair rather than being grafted on to it in order to flesh out multiple seasons of TV, is close to a miracle.
This is an exceptionally smartly shot show, even when the seaside vistas of Montauk aren’t there to provide production value. Look at this trio of shots in which we slowly fade into Noah’s world, first at the start of the episode, then graveside after the funeral for Noah’s father, then the following morning. It’s a restrained but unmistakable way to show us that our presence here, our view of what’s happening, is tied directly to Noah; his presence literally clears things up. It also offers a tantalizing hint that reality may be hazier than it first appears.
Not that any single fucking thing on this show matters, because we know what the outcome and the moral will be every single fucking time. Kindness is always weakness, brutality is always morality, outsiders are always animals, and at a certain point everyone will try to kill everyone else, so you’re never wrong to kill first.
Fear the Walking Dead is fascist.
I reviewed the season finale of Fear the Walking Dead for Decider. This franchise has way bigger problems than lousy cliffhangers and superfluous spinoffs. It’s hugely popular and deeply toxic. It should be talked about.
I won’t say that Fear the Walking Dead’s very, very occasional brushes with insight and intelligence are the most frustrating thing about it — you know, that “why can’t they be like this all the time” kind of frustrating. No, the most frustrating thing about it remains how everybody acts like brownshirts the moment they meet another group of people, and how the show presents this as fundamentally sound behavior. (Unless someone’s doing it to our heroes, in which case it’s bad, and our heroes therefore have every right to murder the perpetrators, which isn’t a whole lot better.)
But still! Fear the Walking Dead’s very, very occasional brushes with insight and intelligence are pretty frustrating. The doomed romance between Victor Strand and Thomas Abigail, Nick’s wordless journey through the wilderness, Strand talking the bereaved newlywed in the hotel through his loss — this stuff is restrained and thoughtful enough to make you imagine a zombie show that was like this all the time, a wish we know is no more likely to come true than a cure for the zombie plague itself. “Date of Death,” this week’s episode, added a few more moments to the “Okay, that was actually good” pile. Not a lot, and not enough to outweigh the usual allotment of idiocy, but enough for said idiocy to feel like a real slap in the face instead of business as usual.
Despite its portentous, Lot’s-wife-referencing title, “Pillar of Salt,” this week’s Fear the Walking Dead had little more on the docket that simply showing us where everybody is (except Chris; thank heaven for small favors) and what everybody’s doing. A “surprise” ending that features one of the show’s top-billed actors getting closer to the other top-billed actors, after an episode filled with more of the same, is all too fitting. There’s was nothing going on here, good or bad — the episode simply existed.
At the beginning of the episode, Agent Murphy contextualizes Pablo’s seemingly overnight downfall by misquoting Hemingway, saying Escobar lost everything “slowly at first, and then all at once.” But he’s not the only one taking a sudden, near-total L. There’s a new kingpin in Colombia, it seems: Bill Stechner, the disheveled CIA black operator who secretly orchestrated the Los Pepes offensive. He forces DEA chief Messina out of office for helping Agent Peña work to dismantle the group and start moving in on the Cali cartel. He announces plans to burn Peña via a Miami Herald interview with Judy Moncada, who’d threatened to rat on her associates to save her own skin and is being exiled to the States for her troubles. And while the outcome is uncertain, it looks like Peña may be joining both women on a one-way trip out of country. “You should have stayed in your lane,” Stechner lectures him; the clarity of the point makes the anachronism of the idiom forgivable.
It might be tempting to apply the same lesson to Pablo himself. Isn’t his story a case of a guy getting too big for his britches, sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong, and getting his whole face blown off? I submit that the answer is actually “no.” It’s true that Escobar’s excommunication from Colombia’s House of Representatives is what touched off his cocaine-fueled civil war against the state, and that he feels this took place because “the men of always” saw him as an interloper. But the behavior of the CIA, the DEA, the Search Bloc, the anti-communist guerrillas, and the various elected officials assigned to oversee them all are proof that there’s nothing unusual about what Escobar did other than whom he did it to. This is how everyone behaves. They’re all right at home. The only real rule Pablo broke was the one against being on the losing side.
I reviewed the penultimate episode of the ever more impressive Narcos Season 2 for Decider, and used a Clive Barker short story title for the headline to boot.
By now it should be clear just how methodically, I mean Breaking Bad Season Five–level methodically, Narcos is dismantling its main character’s ambitions. In eight episodes, he’s gone from the world’s seventh-richest man to just some dude in a jeep being driven around by a cabbie named Limón. Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.
I reviewed the eighth episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider. Getting close now.