Posts Tagged ‘TV reviews’

“Hannibal” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “The Great Red Dragon”

Monday, July 27th, 2015

More impressive still is Richard Armitage’s instant-classic work as Francis Dolarhyde — aka the Tooth Fairy, aka the Great Red Dragon — whom he doesn’t so much play as inhabit. In a recent interview, Armitage said he patterned his (so far entirely wordless) performance on Mica Levi’s avant-garde score for Jonathan Glazer’s art-house horror masterpiece Under the Skin. That a main character on a network television show would be based not a performance but the music from one of the most difficult and surreal horror films ever made is remarkable in and of itself. But beyond that, the connection makes perfect sense. Like Under the SkinRed Dragon concerns an individual in the process of becoming: making, and perhaps unmaking, themselves into a creature driven to commit monstrous crimes. Armitage’s Dolarhyde stares at his own hands as if only now realizing not just their potential but their existence, and mouths formless syllables as if trying to construct not just speech but the meaning behind it. It’s both easy and instructive to see the parallels with Scarlett Johannson’s nameless predator, another beast slouching toward mayhem to be born.

But there are few parallels, if any, between Dolarhyde’s brutality and that of the series’ title character. After a half-season immersion in Hannibal’s world of refined and decadent Old Europe evil, the blunt force of this new killer could not be more striking. Frederic Chilton, who as played by Raul Esparza could quite convincingly pass himself off as Armitage/Dolarhyde’s twin brother, makes a joke out of the contrast (to say nothing of Hannibal’s ratings woes). “He has a much wider demographic than you do,” he tells Lecter. “You, with your fancy allusions and fussy aesthetics, will always have niche appeal. But this fellow…there is something so universal about what he does. Kills whole families, and in their homes. Strikes at the very core of the American dream. You might say he’s a four-quadrant killer.”

Indeed, Dolarhyde kills with an urgent simplicity that’s more viscerally frightening than the elaborate installation-art, performance-piece slayings that have been the stock in trade of both Hannibal and his several serial-killing rivals throughout the series’ run. The Tooth Fairy uses a gun to commit most of his murders; he needs to end lives as quickly as possible. While he does stage his victims’ bodies in gruesome tableaux, posing them together as one big happy family with the shards of broken mirrors over their eyes and mouths (and in the mothers’ genitals), he actually puts the corpses back afterwards. He has no interest in advertising himself to the world, proclaiming his sick genius; what he does, he does for himself alone.  If Lecter is a vampire, Dolarhyde is a werewolf. He is an exclamation point to Hannibal’s ellipsis. All of this is communicated by the show through killing; this is its design. And if it is the punctuation that must end the series, so be it.

I reviewed this week’s episode of Hannibal for Decider. This show is astonishing.


“True Detective” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “Church in Ruins”

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Even weirder, the big orgy that ends the episode is also a move forward for the series’ handling of women, sex, and nudity. When Ani Bezzerides goes undercover to get the inside scoop on the prostitution ring’s high-powered clientele, she’s dosed with Molly that’s potent enough to trigger post-traumatic flashbacks to her molestation as a child; cue visually distorted nightmare. So instead of the sleazy parade of pay-cable hardbodies you might have expected, everything you see is blurry, shaky, and decidedly un-sexy — as it should be at a party in which leering old men buy their way into sex with women who are prohibited from saying no.

The sequence’s most striking break from the norm, though, was aural rather than visual. The show’s usual score, an ominous, electronic throb, is suddenly replaced by an orchestra of swirling strings. It makes Bezzerides’ journey into the party mansion feel like the heroine of a dark fairy tale getting trapped inside the evil queen’s castle, lending a sense of urgency, even adventure, to her attempt to rescue the woman she spots from her old missing person’s case. When Ani, Velcoro and Paul Woodrugh crested the hill in the dark as they ran away, you half-expected the Ringwraiths to be chasing them instead of gun-toting goons. Tossing the series’ usual tonal palette out the window worked beautifully. When was the last time True Detective made you say that? Fingers crossed that the final two installments make us say it again.

I reviewed last night’s True Detective, far and away the best episode of the season, for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “Kali”

Monday, July 27th, 2015

In the Big Eighties New Wave soundtrack wars, Joy Division is a weapon best used sparingly. Like a proto-Cobain, the heavily mythologized tragedy of lead singer Ian Curtis’s suicide hangs heavy over every note, threatening to overwhelm the song’s value as signifiers of either the time period or a character’s psychological state. So when a Raveonettes/Trentemøller cover of the band’s “She’s Lost Control” shuddered its way through the air as Cameron Howe crashed the system of the company that stole her life’s work, it’s time to sit up — or in her case, lie down — and take notice.

But has she lost control, really? Was “Kali,” tonight’s penultimate episode of Halt and Catch Fire Season Two, a portrait of a woman falling apart? If you’ll pardon the Clintonian doublespeak, it depends upon what the meaning of the word “control” is.

If it means using her intelligence and talent to shape her own future, Cameron has got that in spades. In the space of a few days, she devised a brand new business plan, successfully sold their most innovative game, designed the interface for Mutiny 2.0, and hacked Jacob Wheeler’s new network — all under the worst professional circumstances she’s ever faced. You can read it in her eyes, actor Mackenzie Davis’ most expressive asset, when she lies on the grass as her dirty deed goes down: She is in full command.

I reviewed the latest episode of Halt and Catch Fire, which has been an absolute delight all season long, for Rolling Stone.


“Masters of Sex” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “The Excitement of Release”

Monday, July 27th, 2015

While out for drinks with friends the other day, Masters of Sex came up, as it is wont to do. (Perhaps the most practically useful thing about being a TV critic in this, the New Golden Age of Television, is that you can make at least a half hour of conversation with anybody, guaranteed, because everybody watches TV now.) “What do you think of it?” an acquaintance who’d just started Season One asked me. “Well, as far as the first season goes,” I replied, “I think those sex scenes for the sex study are super fucking hot.” “Yes!” she agreed, with both unbridled enthusiasm and obvious sincerity. Indeed, she went on to reveal that she waits until her husband isn’t home to watch the show, so that his wisecracks don’t interrupt the, y’know, mood. We concluded that the genius of that first season was the creation of an intelligent, genuinely adult drama around sexually explicit “adult situations” that would put any Skinemax show to shame. Imagine The Red Shoe Diaries with a shot at the Best Drama Emmy and you’re basically there. Whether you’re a fan of prestige TV, fucking, or both — preferably both — this was cause for celebration.

So it was my grim duty to inform her by the time she reaches the current season, the hot stuff has been well and truly cold-showered. For evidence, look no further than tonight’s ironically titled episode, “The Excitement of Release,” a grim slog through domestic drama, bad business meetings, and perfunctory sexual-assault-as-plot-placeholder. Où sont les petites morts d’antan?

I reviewed yet another Masters of Sex that has entirely lost the plot for the New York Observer.


“Hannibal” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Digestivo”

Monday, July 20th, 2015

It’s been a long, long time since a path to Hannibal Lecter’s capture was clear. The rules of narrative, to say nothing of Thomas Harris’s source material, dictate that Will Graham would be the man to take the Chesapeake Ripper down. But he and Hannibal had become so emotionally intertwined that it made the profiler’s triumph over the killer increasingly unlikely, at least in terms of it resembling a good old-fashioned arrest.

At the end of Season Two, as we learned for certain a few episodes ago, Will had a chance to stop Hannibal but instead hoped to join him on the run. More recently, he was on the verge of stabbing the doctor to death in the the streets of Florence before fate, in the form of one of Chiyoh’s deus-ex-sniper-rifle bullets, intervened. Either way, Graham was morally compromised in a way that would give any defeat of Lecter a bitter aftertaste (no pun intended). As Will himself puts it during their final conversation, “When it comes to you and me, there can be no decisive victory.”

Turns out he’s wrong about that. Brain Hannibal with the butt of your handgun, plumb the depths of his backfat with a knife, brand him with red-hot iron, truss him up in a pigpen while preparing to eat him alive, and he makes nary a peep. Hurt his feelings, though? Then he’ll voluntarily give up his entire criminal career, so long as it’s Will doing the hurting. “I miss my dogs,” Graham says to his nemesis as they sit together in his cozy country house for yet another heart-to-heart chat. But then he sticks the knife in: “I’m not gonna missyou. I’m not going to find you. I’m not going to look for you. I don’t want know where you are or what you do. I don’t want to think about you anymore.”

Smug until the last, Hannibal tries to tell Will what he’s really feeling: “You delight in wickedness, and then berate yourself for the delight.” That’s the final strike. “You delight,” Will replies. “I tolerate. I don’t have your appetite.” Then comes the kiss-off: “Goodbye, Hannibal.” No more cat and mouse, and no more folie à deux either — Will’s done with the devil for good.

Earlier in the episode, Hannibal told Alana that she never could have understood him. Now it’s his turn to experience that kind of ignorance. Will’s superhuman empathy, the quality that enables him to understand Hannibal through and through, is the exact quality that renders him ultimately impenetrable to Hannibal in turn. Simply knowing that the closest thing he’s ever had to a friend has thoroughly rejected him, even as an enemy, for reasons he will never be fully capable of understanding, is enough to make Lecter give up, if only to ensure their continued connection. Will Graham caught Hannibal Lecter by letting him go.

I reviewed last week’s Hannibal, perhaps the most insane thing ever to air on network television, for Decider. You really need to see the gifs.


“Masters of Sex” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “Three’s a Crowd”

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Precious little about the storyline that dominated tonight’s episode either plays to the show’s preexisting strengths or breaks new ground in going offroad. Finding out that she’s pregnant with a third child by ex-husband George causes problems for Virginia at work? You don’t say! It makes Bill, who’s jealous of their relationship and worried about appearances for his life’s work, uncomfortable, and Libby, who knows her husband will be fingered as the father by the public at large, even more so? Get out of town! There’s a plot point where it looks like she’ll get an abortion but the show, ahem, I mean she changes her mind at the last minute? Stop the press! Her newly troubled teenage daughter Tessa tells Virginia that her bad decisions disqualify her from delivering moralistic lectures by saying, in literally so many words, “You’re the last person who gets to lecture me on anything”? Well, I guess it’s a step forward from “You’re the worst mom ever,” an actual honest-to-god line from earlier in the episode! The birth is a screaming crying sweaty mess like every other birth that’s ever been shown on television? I could have a heart attack and die from not-surprise! It’s difficult to overstate how rote and uninteresting every aspect of the idea and the execution wound up being. The most you can say for it is that it only ate up one week of screentime.

And would you believe this was completely the writers’ choice? In reality, there was no narrowly avoided scandal that threatened to overshadow the release of Human Sexual Response, no shotgun re-marriage to George,  no third Johnson baby at all. Even on a show that plays so fast and loose with the facts in its historical fiction that it requires a disclaimer at the end of each episode stating that the child characters bear no resemblance to their real-life inspirations, the invention of a child out of whole cloth is something else. Masters has now done it not once but twice: Both Bill & Libby’s and Virginia & George’s third kids are completely made up, brought into this world by showrunner Michelle Ashford rather than the people the show is ostensibly about. Nothing Masters has done with these wholly optional additions so far has justified the investment.

Indeed, both the bogus baby boom and the sudden swerve into teen-drama territory have steered the series away from its primary points of appeal. Gini and Bill’s used to have chemistry to burn; now it’s tough to remember the last time a scene between them was enough to get any viewer hot and bothered. The labcoat eroticism of their sex study itself was, in the show’s early episodes, a long-overdue payoff on pay-cable’s potential to parlay Nudity and Strong Sexual Content into something as smart as it was smutty; now that element is completely absent. I dunno, maybe there are people out there who’d rather watch a show about hysterical women getting coached through contractions or arguing with their daughters about the borrowing the car, but Growing Pains is available on Amazon for just $1.99 an episode.

Masters of Sex was bad tonight too. I reviewed it for the New York Observer.


“True Detective” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “Other Lives”

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Tonight’s episode was absolutely stuffed with plot points, pretzel-like twists and some seriously overripe, laugh-out-loud lines. More often than not, it felt like a parody of prestige drama rather than the real thing. No character got away clean: Not Ani, who suffers her way from the most one-dimensionally grotesque sex-harassment workshop ever before revving her fellow offenders’ engines with (presumably) sarcastic talk about big dicks. Not Paul and his ridiculous cliché of a mother, who scream and weep their lungs out when he finds out she stole his hidden loot from Afghanistan like they were in a bad telenovela. (Apparently someone in the writers’ room thinks “poisoned cooze” is an insult a human being would use in the year of our Lord 2015.) Not Ray, who records a monologue about suffering for his son — “Pain is inexhaustible. It’s only people that get exhausted” — like he’s auditioning for the role of Rust Cohle in the school play. (Runner up: his big cliffhanger-ending “You and me need to talk.” No shit!) Not Frank and his wife Jordan, who stammer their way through a fight about his return to the gangster lifestyle and her inability to have children centered on sentences like “Crime exists contingent on human desire.”

The pièce de résistance, of course, is Frank’s grand declaration of frustration to Ray. “The enemy won’t reveal itself, Raymond,” he says, like a summer-stock Pacino in Godfather III. “Stymies my retribution. It’s like, uh, blue balls in your heart.” Blue balls in your heart, people. Blue. Balls. In. Your. Heart. Look, a simile makes connections in order to uncover meaning, not overwhelm it; “blue balls in your heart” does nothing to explain the unique rage of delayed revenge except bury it under a mountain of “Wait…what the hell did he just say?” It’s enough to give you, uh, jock itch in your brain.

I don’t even know what to say, folks. I reviewed tonight’s True Detective for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “Limbo”

Monday, July 20th, 2015

The discovery leaves Joe in the unenviable position of transitioning from chemically induced bliss to pure panic. Instead of fucking his bonnie bride amid his beloved mainframes while rolling on MDMA after a lengthy, lushly shot nightclub sequence, he’s not only forced to sober up; the man has to reenter the enemy territory. Dressed head-to-toe in white like Don Johnson after an all-night Miami Vice cast party, MacMillan staggers into Mutiny HQ and desperately attempt to convince everyone that he had nothing to do with destroying their life’s work. The result is the rare moment where no one’s buying what our resident mover-and-shaker is selling.

It’s hard to believe, given the swaggering alpha-male asshole we remember from Season One, but it’s a crushingly sad moment. Here’s a guy who really has become a better man…and it doesn’t matter. Jacob’s swindle is as convincing a copy of Joe’s old tactics as his bogus new network is of Mutiny’s proprietary code, so none of his former coworkers believe MacMillan is innocent for a second. That’s a tremendous demonstration of how hard it can be to break the mold you’ve made for yourself. It’s always there to shape how others see you.

You know what’s an actual good show? Halt and Catch Fire! I reviewed this week’s episode for Rolling Stone.)


“Masters of Sex” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “Parliament of Owls”

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Masters of Sex, at its best, is a lot like Arizona: extremely dry and extremely hot. When it works it’s fueled by the R-rated Rosalind Russell vibes of Lizzy Caplan’s Virginia Johnson, the strength of its premise — a historical battle the eventual victor of which is obvious everywhere you look today — and its tasteful yet provocative clinical eroticism, which is another way to say it’s super fucking sexy to watch people fuck for science. When it doesn’t work it’s weighed down by its protagonist’s lack of charisma, its supporting cast’s ‘90s-network-drama two-dimensionality, its repetitive relationship dynamics, and its use of throwaway characters who exist simply to spout the prejudices and since-rejected conventional wisdom of the day. Tonight’s Season Three premiere, “Parliament of Owls,” most definitely did not work. What does this tell us? Let’s make like Masters & Johnson and observe & report.

Masters of Sex’s main problem is its title character. Bill Masters is a singularly unappealing figure, bold and forward-thinking about precisely one thing, his sex research project, and a drip in every other way. Imagine if Don Draper were just as good at advertising as ever but weren’t also charming, frequently kind, and unbelievably handsome, and you’ve pretty much got the good doctor covered. This makes a show about a small army of people who rearrange not just the entirety of their own lives but also science and society in general around the guy a tough sell indeed.

I reviewed tonight’s season premiere of Masters of Sex, which I did not care for, for the New York Observer. It’s kind of a write-up of my feelings about the show in general.


“True Detective” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “Down Will Come”

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Structurally, tonight’s big bang comes at the exact same end-of-Episode-Four point as the single-take shootout from Season One. But that was a deep-cover diversion, a consequence of Rust Cohle getting dragged along for a drug heist while posing as a white-supremacist biker. This week’s rampage, by contrast, took place as part of the search for the actual suspect in Ben Caspere’s killing, a figure in the Mexican mob whose prints were on the dead man’s pawned watch.

As such, it potentially corresponds not to the aforementioned seven-minute sequence, but to Marty and Rust’s raid on Reggie Ledoux’s compound in the following episode. That was when the original Detective duo murdered numerous shady men while the real killer went free for another decade. This time around, Ray knows for sure that the Vinci P.D. wants the case closed, and he suspects the state is in for the opportunity to shake down his crooked town for extra cash. With that in mind, it’s likely there will be pressure to act like they’ve gotten their man, however improbably that may be. Only ganglord Frank, who knows better than to believe that a guy hard up enough to pawn jewelry could be behind all his ruined plans, will want to keep up the hunt until the actual culprit is found. In other words, the criminal has been the true detective all along. Congrats if you had him in your office pool!

I reviewed tonight’s bullet-ridden True Detective for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “Working for the Clampdown”

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

The dramas of TV’s New Golden Age excel at presenting their characters with a choice of evils. Should Walter White attempt to take down a more powerful druglord, or turn his family’s life upside down by fleeing? Should Daenerys Targaryen let the slaves she freed take vengeance against their former masters, or punish their payback attempts with still more violenceShould Don Draper sell out, or give up? For many shows, the central conflict involves a question with seemingly no right answers.

But what if there are no wrong answers? What if the choice is hard to make because the benefits of either option are too difficult to turn down? In the right hands, that’s an even deeper dilemma — and “Working for the Clampdown,” tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire, proves this is a series with the tools and the talent to navigate this demanding kind of drama.

Halt and Catch Fire is so goddamn good, everyone! Please watch it, and please read my review for Rolling Stone.


“Hannibal” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six: “Dolce”

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

Let’s state it for the record: If Hannibal really is over, it’s the most upsetting cancellation since Deadwood, hands down. Both series are, or were, ruthless and uncompromising in articulating the poetically violent visions of their creators through inimitable dialogue and sumptuous cinematography. They’re gifts we’ve been lucky to have, even if only for three seasons apiece. That said, only one involved human bodies prepared like Peking duck, attempted incestuous insemination, beautiful women having kaleidoscope sex, and bone saws slicing through living human skulls. C’mon, NBC, Netflix, and Amazon! Hannibal has it all! And “Dolce,” tonight’s episode, was a veritable garden of unearthly delights — funny, sexy, suspenseful, repulsive, and, as always, absolutely gorgeous.

Hannibal is goddamn great. I reviewed this week’s episode for Decider.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode 6: “10BROAD36″

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

There’s no surer sign that a show is doing something very right than when even its most plot-heavy episodes leave you thinking not about what happened, but how it happened. Sure, you can recount where Mad Men‘s final episode left all its leading players — but the real magic lies in the way Don Draper’s climactic breakdown and breakthrough is presented. (You’re craving a Coke right…about…now.) Game of Thrones‘ Season Five finale similarly stranded nearly all its major characters in the direst of straits, but weeks later it’s the sound of the crowd surrounding Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame that sticks in your mind.

This is the enviable position in which Halt and Catch Fire finds itself with the latest installment in its season-long hot streak: “10BROAD36.” It’s an episode that bursting with big story beats: the Mutiny crew found out about Cameron and Tom’s romance; Donna hid both her pregnancy and abortion from her husband Gordon, who was busy cheating on her half a continent away; and Joe MacMillan used his “simple” plan to provide server space to Cam’s company as an entry point for taking it over entirely. (Bad Joe is back!) But it’s how these characters interacted, and how everything was shot and staged, that made for a fantastic hour of television.

Might I suggest that if you’re disappointed by this season of True Detective, you make the switch to Halt and Catch Fire, which rules? I reviewed tonight’s episode for Rolling Stone.


“True Detective” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “Maybe Tomorrow”

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

…this isn’t the first time True Detective has lacked the courage of its convictions. Rust Cohle spent the first season spouting the bleakest arguments about life and death ever advanced by a primetime drama, only to see the light and put his pessimism aside in its final minutes. The show could have broken important ground, depicting a person who believes the worst about the world yet still does good in it, with neither feature canceling out the other. (Faith in humanity is not required to be a decent human being.) Instead, Rust played the hero and got a hero’s reward, psychologically anyway.

Reviving Ray leaves similarly challenging and exciting territory unexplored. The idea of a good-cop/bad-cop narrative forced to live on past the death of its bad cop is an intriguing one indeed. For starters, it would have shaken up the story’s seen-it-all-before structure. It could also have been an opportunity for Pizzolatto and company to examine the toxic masculinity the show alternately (and perhaps unwittingly) critiques and embodies. Dodging an entire seasons’ worth of comparisons between the Harrelson/McConaughey and Farrell/Vaughn stunt castings wouldn’t have hurt, either.

And while we’re playing the What If game: If Velcoro were gone, maybe there’d be room to signify the psychological hang-ups of the other characters outside of bedroom-related problems. Take the trio that rounds out the core cast: Ani Bezzerides’ sexual assertiveness, Frank Semyon’s failure to perform at the fertility clinic, and Paul Woodrugh’s physical rejection of a romantic overture are used to advertise their overall dysfunction like a neon sign. Pimps and prostitutes are everywhere, each one a more leering stereotype than the last. Hollywood types talk about risqué parties like middle-schoolers who just looked up the word “orgy” on wiktionary.com for the first time. The evil mayor has a house full of hustlers and harlots, including his son and wife. The murder victim himself is a garden-variety perv. Factor in Marty Hart’s philandering, his teen daughter’s promiscuity, and his wife’s weaponized seduction of Rust back in Season One, and it’s as if True Detective believes anything short of having seamless, zipless sexual experiences is a signal that your life is about to fall apart.

“Death is not the end,” but maybe it should be? I reviewed tonight’s kind of baffling True Detective for Rolling Stone.


“The Brink” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

What if an actual crazy person got his hands on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and only America’s horniest men could stop him? That’s the basic premise of The Brink, HBO’s alleged new comedy. In theory, it’s not a bad set-up for a satire. If anything, this country’s gang-who-couldn’t-drone-straight foreign policy in the Muslim world deserves an even more ruthless roasting than its comedians have given it, and anxieties about the so-called “Islamic bomb” and the impenetrable nexus of militant groups and secret agencies that surround it on all sides are ripe for Strangelovian spoofing. Homeland Season Four, but funny on purpose? Starring Jack Black, Tim Robbins, Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show, and Pablo Schreiber from The Wire Season Two? Sure, this could work.

Alas! “Pilot” (the default title for a series-premiere actually fits the story) gets no closer to Kubrick than the trisected structure that creators Roberto and Kim Benabib cribbed from the good Dr. Looked at in the most generous light imaginable, Black’s low-ranking Islamabad-based diplomat Alex Talbot is a bawdier version of Peter Sellers’s Colonel Mandrake, Robbins’s even randier Secretary of State Walter Larson is a less macho take on George C. Scott’s General Buck Turgidson, and Schreiber’s Navy fighter pilot Zeke “Z-Pak” Tilson is a pill-popping, civilian-casualty-avoiding echo of Slim Pickens’s Major Kong; together, it seems, they’ll have to help Esai Morales’s President Julian Navarro—handsomer than Sellers’s Merkin Muffley but just as ineffectual—keep a powerful general with paranoid delusions about enemy plots against his nation’s reproductive capabilities (yep, it’s that direct a swipe) from igniting World War III. I don’t remember Strangelove having this many dick jokes, though. Okay, this many bad dick jokes.

Strangelove on the rocks: I missed linking to it at the time, but I reviewed the series premiere of The Brink for the New York Observer.


“Hannibal” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “Contorno”

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

“Contorno,” last night’s action-packed, bowel-unpacked episode ofHannibal, took visceral (no pun intended) pleasure in kicking the living shit out of Hannibal Lecter. Physical opponents — that psychopathic mental-hospital orderly, Mason Verger and his goons, and of course Jack himself — have gotten the drop on the Doctor in the past, but in each case the action was elegant and elevating, whether Hannibal was being trussed up for the perfect death or engaging in an expertly choreographed hand-to-hand battle with a worthy opponent. None of that this time. This was just a decent guy who’s getting too old for this shit handing an asshole’s ass to him. And man, it felt good, even if he got away in the end. The split from the show’s usual operatic setpiece-violence in favor of this down-and-dirty fight was striking, and provided a surprising and welcome break from the claustrophobic, symbolism-laden slaughter.

And maybe it’s the latent class warrior in me — okay, not so latent, the expropriation of the wealthy really can’t begin fast enough — but it seems as if the show relied on a certain slobs-vs.-snobs schadenfreude to fuel the climactic town-vs.-gown beatdown. After all Hannibal’s posturing, his expensive clothes and fine wine and gourmet meals and high culture, he was for all intents and purposes beaten in a bar fight by a working stiff. Hannibal revels in the perversity of immersing us in this aristocratic killer’s mind and world, but a scene like this shows it’s still wisely attuned to popular desire to watch the effete elite taken down a peg. (The use of Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” as the soundtrack for this scene smartly recalls its accompaniment of Alex DeLarge’s anti-aristo rampages in A Clockwork Orange.)

He takes a beating and keeps on eating: I reviewed this week’s Hannibal for Decider.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “Infiltrator”

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Halt’s got many strengths besides its characters, of course; its period pop-culture reference game has rarely if ever been as on point as it was tonight. Cameron and Tom’s rental of The Terminator, for example, takes on any number of roles within the narrative. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice gives them funny accents to flirt in. Renting the video provides Tom with a convenient excuse for one of his many sudden “I gotta go”s, which seems to suggest a secret at home. The film’s totally-Eighties nightclub-massacre scene is beautifully recreated in Gordon’s own visit to the local hotspot, with a zonked-out computer engineer substituting for the gun-toting cyborg. The Mutiny crew watches the scene featuring the famous line “And it will not stop, ever, until you are dead,” which echoes Clark’s understanding of his disease. And the first-person shooter the company wants to develop will, in all likelihood, owe a lot to the visceral violence and implacable antagonists of James Cameron’s classic.

Ditto the just-imported Nintendo Entertainment System that Gordon’s kids can’t wait to play. Like the Macintosh that appeared at the end of last season like one of 2001‘s monoliths, the NES will create a massive cultural explosion that Cameron and company will have to deal with. The children’s prophetically passionate response shows how important the characters’ family lives can be to their professional ones, if only they pay attention. The bemused way Donna’s mother describes the game they’re playing (“A bunch of little men fighting turtles”) illustrates how easy it is to ignore a Super Mario Bros–sized forest for the trees. It also indicates the weird alchemy required to create a world that gamers will want to immerse themselves in again and again, which is Cameron’s current quest for her theoretical online multiplayer game. Maybe it’s a coincidence that so many shots in this episode showed characters as small figures against big backgrounds, Mario-style — but if so it’s a coincidence that counts.

Halt and Catch Fire is super good, everyone. Here’s my review of tonight’s episode for Rolling Stone.


“True Detective” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Two: “Night Finds You”

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Let’s get a little Rust Cohle-ish for a second: There’s a theory among physicists that any event with multiple possible outcomes is essentially a root from which parallel universes grow. If you’re reading this recap, for example, you probably decided to watch True Detective tonight — instead of, say, playing World of Warcraft, or writing to your congressional representative about the cancellation of Hannibal. But according to the “many-worlds interpretation” of quantum mechanics, the timelines in which you leveled up your orc mage or explained the twisted relationship between Dr. Lecter and Special Agent Will Graham to a member of the House Ways and Means Committee are just as real as this one.

Tonight, True Detective 2.0 itself reached a multiversal branch point. Either it killed off its top-billed main character in its second episode, thus crafting the quickest course correction in TV history, or it didn’t, creating one of the most obnoxious bait-and-switch cliffhangers ever. This makes Colin Farrell the TV-antihero version of Schrödinger’s cat — simultaneously alive and dead, at least until next week. Time may be a flat circle, but it’s sure-as-shit better to be on one side of the interdimensional disc than the other.

Did True Detective just do what it looked like it did? And does it matter? I tried to answer these questions for Rolling Stone.


“Hannibal” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “Apertivo”

Friday, June 26th, 2015

It will be left to scholars to determine whether opening “Apertivo,” this week’s ep, with a slow-motion closeup of a bullet entering a man’s face and exiting through the back of his head in a geyser of viscera influenced NBC’s decision to cancel the series days before it aired. But the fact remains: Hannibal is, without exaggeration, one of the most visually and narratively audacious shows in the entire history of television. It’s to the Peacock Network’s credit that they let it get away with murder for as long as they did.

I reviewed this week’s astonishing Hannibal for Decider.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “Play with Friends”

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Directed by Boys Don’t Cry’s Kimberly Peirce, this week’s Halt made extensive and ostentatious use of canted frames, handheld cameras, and most memorably a GoPro-filmed dart-gun battle. These immersive techniques made for a constructive contrast with the clean-machine opening titles. The credits and their accompanying theme music portray technology’s advance as orderly, antiseptic, and unstoppable; meanwhile, the camera work conveys just how haphazard, shaky, and human things really are beneath the surface.

Speaking of being human — hoo boy, do Cameron Howe and Tom Rendon have sexual chemistry to burn. Mark O’Brien has been dynamite in the role from the start, equally convincing as an arrogant hacker and an overworked, underpaid kid trying to make ends meet. He brings that same easy naturalism to his scenes with Mackenzie Davis, making their characters’ physical and romantic connection so convincing you feel like you’re watching a perfect-for-each-other couple make out at a party for the very first time.

The hour-long buildup to their first kiss is killer, too. First Cameron reprimands him for showing up late and half-asleep. Next, she goes out of her way not to make him feel embarrassed when she discovers him working a supermarket night shift to pay the bills. Then they share a platonic  moment in a closet during the dart-gun war, and brainstorm the idea for multiplayer online gaming as a sort of sublimated seven-minutes-in-heaven. Finally, in the middle of cleaning up Mutiny’s beercan-strewn backyard, they stop for a giggly hookup that’s clumsy with passion and excitement. It’s super sexy stuff, and not an item of clothing is shed.

I reviewed tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire for Rolling Stone. It was good. This is a really fun show – you should watch it!