Posts Tagged ‘decider’
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.
But the real star of this soul-crushing show is Wagner Moura’s Pablo, whose slow-moving swagger has almost imperceptibly morphed into just plain slowness, a sort of walking-wounded shuffle. His family is gone, beyond his reach whether they’re in Colombia or abroad. The stress causes him to pass out. His attempt to strike back is a catastrophic case of overkill. His disintegration is encapsulated in a version of the signature shot in which the camera swirls around his unsmiling face, a shot we’ve seen time and time again: This time, that shot’s out of focus.
No one believes me when I tell them this — no one except other critics, anyway — but I’m in the liking-things business. When a television show is bad I’m going to say so, and when it’s really bad I’m going to say so hard. But the pact I’ve made with myself to stay relatively happy and sane is to assume, at the start of every episode, that there’s every probability that I’ll have considered it time well spent by the closing credits. If I didn’t want to enjoy myself every time I sit down to watch a TV show, I wouldn’t watch them for a living, you know? Bad shows don’t fulfill my pessimistic expectations, they disappoint my optimistic ones. Even in the case of Fear the Walking Dead, a series I think is not just “bad” but also ethically and politically noxious, I’m out here every week looking for diamonds in the rough. If the best I can come up with is cubic zirconium, hey, I’ll take it.
What follows is a gruesome shootout in full view of Pablo’s beloved family. Shot in a pair of long takes in order to emphasize the chaos, it’s a deliberate contrast with the similar long take that highlighted Pablo’s relative security at the beginning of the previous episode. It’s a smart choice in that it keeps the focus not on the Boss but on his terrified family, outgunned employees, and invading enemies. As a viewer, you get to see and feel what life is like in Pablo’s orbit — you’re an expendable bit player in the drama centered on him.
The result is, at times, genuinely moving. There’s a moment when Tata, her daughter in her arms, rushes through the kitchen where Pablo’s exchanging gunfire with Los Pepes; he’s just a blur with an absurd “Golf Masters” sweatshirt and a machine gun, frantically waving his arms and shouting “Get out! Get out! Get out!” between rounds as his family flees for their lives.
And when the family reaches safety — sans Carlos, who’s dead, and with Pablo’s mom humbled and his wife devastated — his daughter asks a brutally naive question: “Daddy, how will Santa still know how to find us?” Kudos to Wagner Moura for making Pablo’s reaction not a controlled emotional implosion, but a weird, awkward, trembling hiccup. That feels much more true to the unbearable experience of having to account for your failure to a child you love.
I reviewed the sixth episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider. The show is doing very smart things with mirrored shot set-ups, as hopefully this review and the last one taken in tandem indicate.
By now it’s no secret that Narcos doesn’t do flashy. So far this season I’ve seen this mostly leveled at the show as an insult — it’s trying to do for Scorsese what Stranger Things did for Spielberg and company, with a similarly shaky grasp of everything that makes the filmmaker in question not just Fun but Great. For me, it’s what separates this show from Stranger Things. If Narcos were simply trying to ape Marty, Francis, et al, it’d have all the surface-level razzle-dazzle but none of the black-hearted soul.
So it’s worth pointing out when the show genuinely does do something Scorsese-esque. In episode five of its second season, “The Enemies of My Enemy” (these titles are getting really cheesy, incidentally), we’re treated to a long tracking shot that would make Henry Hill on his way into the Copacabana proud. With Col. Carrillo in the ground, Pablo is living, well, the life of Pablo — giving his adorable kids diving and swimming instructions, joking around with his jolly sicarios, cheering on his favorite football team, goosing his lovely wife’s bum. (Tata Escobar’s posterior is as much of a costar this season as Joan Holloway’s décolletage was in Mad Men.)
The intent of this multi-minute shot is to show that for Pablo, everything is in its right place, at least for the moment. You don’t need to be flashy if your rare instance of ostentatious camerawork is as communicative as this.
The worst part, by far, is Elena, the mad fascist…hotel manager. Yes, this winner of a character willingly sentenced an entire wedding party to death when one of their number turned zombie. Why? “I had the hotel to think about. We were at capacity.” Oh, well, alright then! “I contained the situation,” Elena explains. You know who else “contained the situation,” Fear the Walking Dead? You might say that Elena found the final solution to the guest question in her hotel.
It’s not inconceivable that Elena might react to a sudden zombie outbreak in her hotel’s ballroom by locking everyone at the party in with the dead. Had she been shown to be panicked, preoccupied, or even just a little nervous about reports of “the sickness,” that kind of snap decision would make sense. On the contrary, she blows off the mother and father of the bride’s concerns about the dawning apocalypse mere seconds before the dad drops dead. (A tidy bit of plot-hammering right there!) In that light, her reaction to the infection of a paying customer, and his sudden decision to chew the face off his child in the middle of their father-daughter dance, looks either insanely sociopathic or insanely poorly written. But hey, this is Fear the Walking Dead — why choose?
I reviewed this week’s Fear the Walking Dead for Decider. This show is fascist, right down to the philosophical incoherence.