Posts Tagged ‘TV’

“Mad Men” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode One: “Time Zones”

Monday, April 14th, 2014

“Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something.

Do you have time to improve your life? Do you have precisely 30 seconds for a word from AccuTron watches?

The watch appears, bottom third. The second hand moves with a fluid sweep, and above it? ‘AccuTron Time.’

You go into a business meeting. Is there food in your teeth? Ashes on your tie? And you’ve got nothing to say. The meeting is boring, but you can’t be. But you’re wearing an AccuTron. This watch makes you interesting.”

Freddy Rumsen’s right. This is the beginning of something: the end. And the ad pitch for AccuTron watches that kicks off Mad Men’s seventh and final season (or at least the first half of it in this Sopranos/Breaking Bad-style last-season split) tells us a lot about how our heroes will handle it. If Matthew Weiner hadn’t intended us to “pay attention” to the ad for the watch, he wouldn’t have called this episode “Time Zones.”

I’m back on the Mad Men beat for Wired this year, hooray! Once again each review will view the episode through the lens of the ad campaigns the characters are working on. Mad Men is my favorite show on the air right now, and I love writing about it, though it’s a real challenge. If you watch it, I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to say about it.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Two: “The Lion and the Rose”

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Now’s as good a time as any to point out that this episode was written by author George R.R. Martin — a smart move for several reasons, one of which involves defusing potential complaints about the show’s now-innumerable deviations from the source material. For example, sexual sadist Ramsay Snow taking on a female partner in crime was a headscratcher, though that kind of killing couple is hardly without precedent (google the Moors Murders, if you can stand the result).

The other advantage is to allow the series’ demiurge to try his hand at its unique strength: pairing off characters and just letting them talk. Jaime and Bronn, Roose Bolton and Ramsay and “Reek,” Melisandre and Stannis and his wife Selyse, Cersei and Brienne, Jaime and Loras — the list of dynamite dialogues goes on and on. The dessert course may overwhelm the palate somewhat (loved that close-up of the bird blood in the pie!), but the whole episode is a feast of conversation, cooked up by the master’s hand. And note that in Martin’s original novels, Jaime and Brienne don’t make it back to King’s Landing until after the wedding, meaning some of the episode’s best exchanges wouldn’t even be possible without the show’s changes.

But many of its strengths do indeed originate with the originals. The entire ghastly, endless humiliation of Tyrion by Joffrey came straight from their pages: destroying Tyrion’s painstakingly selected wedding gift, hiring dwarves to put on a grotesque show and damn near forcing Tyrion to participate, dousing him with wine and ordering him to serve as cupbearer. Most revealing is Joffrey’s adamant refusal to let Tyrion play any of this off as accidental, or as “an honor.” Joffrey wants everyone to know exactly what’s going on, and nothing short of spelling it out will do. Joffrey’s not just cruel, he’s stupid — a terrible politician who likely wouldn’t have lasted long on the throne regardless. His final act is to point at the wrong man, for crying out loud. Here lies Joffrey Baratheon: He was the worst, even at dying.

Purple reign, purple reign: I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

The Great Don Debate: Discuss the Greatness of Mad Men‘s Anti-Hero

Monday, April 14th, 2014

The terrific writer and critic Hazel Cills and I are debating Don Draper and Mad Men for Netflix right this very minute. Come by and talk to us about it.

The Self-Destruction of “Mad Men”

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

But now that the subtext is the text, now thatMad Men‘s storyline has caught up to the countercultural moment that would eventually lead to works like, well, Mad Men, the show’s original aesthetic appeal has been tossed out the window like so much suicide foreshadowing. If you were the kind of Don-bro able to turn off your brain and just enjoy early Mad Men for its lush portrayal of a jocularly misogynist time when men were men, women were women, and everyone looked amazing (even if they smelled like ashtrays), brother, you’re out of luck now. It’s like if David Chase had gotten so fed up with the “Who’s gonna get whacked?” side ofThe Sopranos‘ audience that he spent the last few seasons chronicling Tony Soprano as an honest-to-God waste management consultant. It’s enormously gutsy. And while Matthew Weiner (who, unlike his mentor Chase, at least allows his non-Dons to evolve) couldn’t have known he’d get this far when he spent years lugging the unsold Mad Menpilot around in his briefcase, it was a certainty if the show ever succeeded. Mad Menwas designed to self-destruct.

I wrote about Mad Men‘s deliberate demolition of its nostalgic appeal for Esquire. I’ll also be covering the show again this year for Wired, and you might see me pop up in another place or two about it as well. I like writing about this show, which is the best on tv.

Game of Thrones Q&A: Rory McCann/The Hound

Monday, April 7th, 2014

You guys are shooting in Iceland this year — where you used to live, right?

I hadn’t shot in Iceland with Game of Thrones before — I’d always shot in Malta or Croatia, and [I] was far too hot in that armor. When I was told I was going to Iceland, I couldn’t believe it. Six or seven years ago I went there to do a Viking film, and at the end of it they were like, “You’re going now?” “No, I’m staying.” “No, no, the job’s over.” [firmly] “No. I’ve got my tent. And I’m staying. Thank you very much.” I phoned my agent and went “Don’t phone me unless I’ve definitely got a job.” He didn’t phone me for a year. [Laughs] “Hello? Anything?” I ended up being a carpenter, building houses. Then their whole market crashed, and I borrowed some money off an actor pal that I met up there and hitched out of the place.

I got there last year to do [this season of] Game of Thrones. I’d hitched out of the place on borrowed money, and suddenly there’s this beautiful blonde driver beside this white Range Rover, all smoked out, going [in Scandinavian accent] “Hello, my name is Herta. Should we go skinny dipping before we go to the hotel?” [Laughs] “That would be lovely, Herta.”

Then I was meeting people over there that still didn’t know me as an actor, they just knew me as the guy who used to go to the library. Some still thought I was a local there. I met old friends again, had my bicycle again, did all my old things again. I only partied on the last night, because I was behaving myself. I thought I was gonna have to get my top off for a scene, so I was working out — I mean, I didn’t even drink water for the last 24 hours. On the day, the director comes up to me, and I’ve got dumbells on set, like [makes weightlifting motions] “YEAH! UHHH! FUCKIN’ READY!!!” He touches me on the shoulder and goes “Rory, I was thinking about it last night — I think we’ll just keep the top on,” and leaves me. “Fucking…I haven’t been out for fucking four months! I haven’t had a beer in fucking three months!”

So that night, Maisie was there, it was our last night in Iceland, it was my one night out…and we got stopped by the police. [Laughs] We were all in a van, we had a designated driver, and we were all drunk — but for Maisie, of course — and singing. The police stopped us, he had his hand on the holster, and the driver went “It’s the cast of Game of Thrones.” “Oh yeah? Open up.” I had the nearest seat. I’ve obviously had a few drinks, and I’m very excited. He looks at me, and I go [booming voice] “Hello! I’m the Hound!” And he looks and says “…Hello, Hound! You enjoy Iceland?” I said a few things in Icelandic, and he’s like “Fuck yeah! Well, you have a good time!” And we went on singing. [Laughs]

I interviewed Rory McCann, aka Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, for Rolling Stone, and it was my favorite interview ever.

The Shocking 16: TV’s Most Heartstopping Moments

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

I wrote up 16 of the New Golden Age of TV’s most surprising and suspenseful scenes and sequences for Rolling Stone (with a little help from my fabulous editor David Fear). Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Lost, Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black, The Shield, The Sopranos, True Detective, Twin Peaks, The Walking Dead, The Wire. Read, then vote in our neat bracket tournament thing!

The Game of Thrones Season Four Cheat Sheet

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Bone up on Thrones: Over at Rolling Stone I wrote a cheat sheet for the show so you can get the lay of the land before this Sunday’s premiere. Share it with that special “wait, who’s that guy again?” someone in your life.

Apologies if you’re getting sick of all the GoT/ASoIaF stuff, but a) you haven’t even seen the half of it here, and b) just you wait a couple weeks when Mad Men season begins.

The Top 40 Game of Thrones Characters, Ranked

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Valar Dohaeris or what have you — I ranked 40 major characters from Game of Thrones from worst to best for Rolling Stone. I never do this kind of thing, which is why I had to do it. I think I’m gonna do one of those supermarket “you’re our millionth customer” prizewinner things in the comments, only for people who say “obviously you’ve never read the books.”

“True Detective” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “Form and Void”

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Just realized I never linked to my review of the True Detective season finale. Fittingly it was a mix of “gripping” and “a mess,” like the whole season.

Your Grand Unified “True Detective” Theory Is Missing the Goddamn Point

Friday, March 7th, 2014

My own wild speculation is that clue-hunting and twist-anticipating entered the hive mind via cinemas in 1999 with the one-two twist-ending punch of The Sixth Sense and Fight Club. Sure, The Crying Game was still a recent memory, but not for the fanboys who flocked to Shyamalan and Fincher’s films and whose tastes were about to become post-millennial mainstream culture’s bread and butter. On the small screen, the phenomenon had its precursors — “Who killed Laura Palmer?”, The X-Files’ sprawling and eventually suffocating mythology — but the blame-slash-credit must be laid at the four-toed feet of Lost. Fueled by decades of pulp-fiction tropes and pop-philosophy mindbenders, structured as a Russian nesting doll of mysteries within mysteries, and riddled with more Easter eggs than the White House lawn, ABC’s sci-fi smash knowingly worked fans into a frenzy of message-board theory-mongering. Turns out it was more or less a shaggy dog story the creators were making up as they went along, but this didn’t stop viewers from applying this mode of audience speculation-cum-participation to virtually every big series since.

Which is fair play, when the show in question invites it. For example, Lost’s big nerd-culture contemporary, the cult-classic critics’ darling Battlestar Galactica reboot, teased its big mysteries in the opening-credit text of every episode, and thus had nothing but itself to blame when viewers gave the whole series a thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on those mysteries’ solutions. But even relatively realistic shows, based not around unraveling enigmas but on studying the complexities of human relationships, are now treated like glorified Sudoku puzzles by vocal viewers. The Sopranos’ David Chase worked overtime to design a series finale that would actively defy this kind of clue-hunting closure, but that didn’t stop a host of amateur sleuths out to close the book on that infamously open ending. More recently, the ostensibly sophisticated audience of Mad Men treats everything from promo art to costume choices the way medieval soothsayers treated goat entrails. In this light, the decision of Game of Thrones to largely drop its epic-fantasy source material’s host of cryptic prophecies and hidden truths (google “R+L=J” if you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes) in favor of character work and realpolitik seems like the smartest act of adaptation since Francis Ford Coppola dropped Johnny Fontane as a main character in The Godfather.

Over at Esquire, I wrote a piece on the fan fervor for theory-mongering that surrounds True Detective which wound up being kind of an historical overview of the practice’s slow takeover of pop culture. It was fun to do — and commissioned by a loyal All Leather Must Be Boiled reader! See kids, tumblr dreams come true!

“They’re real men.”

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Where do you think Cohle and Hart fit within the world of HBO’s antiheroes?

I don’t think either of these guys are antiheroes. I see that term used a lot in the media but I don’t think they know what they means. Tony Soprano wasn’t an antihero, he was just a very bad man. He’s just somebody you’re fascinated with watching. I think both of these men are straight up heroes — they’re flawed men but they’re not corrupt. They’re kind of throwbacks, for better or worse, to a different kind of masculinity. They’re real men.

True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto


“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eight

Monday, February 24th, 2014

* There’s something very odd about Downton‘s Christmas-special storytelling model of whisking us off to a different location and surrounding us with new characters who will be a big deal now but, as best I can tell, never again. They did it last year with Lord Shrimpy and the Highlands, and they did it this year with Prince Edward and London (and, I suppose, Harold Levinson). It felt weirder this year, though, because without the narrative atom bomb of the male lead’s death, there’s really nothing tying this episode back to the main narrative. There’s a caper that’s successful but which in historical terms is futile, there’s a trip to the beach, and there’s Paul Giamatti. The end!

* What’s more, there’s very little resolution in the offing for that main narrative. No indication of where Mary’s headed with her suitors. Nothing firm on Tom and his political teacher person. (And obviously not a scrap tossed to the Mary/Tom shippers.) No revelation regarding Thomas’s hold on Baxter. Nothing on the final fate of Michael Gregson, beyond the news that he was waylaid by Nazis (!). Bates skates on executing Green, apparently. Even the sudden, and frankly delightful, autumn-years shipping of Isobel & Lord Merton and Carson & Mrs. Hughes (!!!!!!! serving Roslin & Adama realness!) is more gestural than actual.

* It was nice to see the banker from Sexy Beast put the moves on Shirley MacLaine, though.

* Some conversation or other that Mary had with someone about how hard it can be to make relationships work even when everyone around you is pulling for them made me realize the elegance of having everyone try to get Mary and Matthew together all those years. They weren’t starcrossed at all, except perhaps at the very start. That’s a really unique and almost perverse way to construct an obstacle for your romantic pairing to overcome — it’s too perfect, everyone wants it, and the weight of that is crushing to you.

* “Your strength has made me strong.” “My what?” And so after much adversity, Molesley comes out on top, having survived his fall from the top while still being, I dunno, basically decent and trying to put one foot in front of the other. I suppose that would be inspiring to someone like Baxter, who finds herself in the thrall of creepazoid Thomas apparently because she gave up trying to take all those little steps and was content to just drift along behind him.

* That’s the most consistent ethos of this show, in the end, quite aside from however you feel about however Julian Fellowes feels about the aristocracy or the class system: It celebrates the performance of difficult emotional work. Listen to Mary talk to Tony about grieving and moving on: “A year ago, I thought I’d be alone for ever — that I would mourn Matthew to the end of my days. Now I know that isn’t true, that there will be a new life for me, one day. And even if I can’t decide yet what life that should be, isn’t it something for us to celebrate?” A lot of people, a lot of shows, would say no, slow your roll Lady Mary. Mad Men is the best show on television and it’s all about how people are goal-oriented, routinely crushed by their failure to meet those goals, and often induced into bad behavior to get there by any means necessary. There’s no room on that show for a young widow to take stock of her situation and say “I miss my husband, it’s hard being a parent without him, two dudes are into me and I don’t know how I feel about either of them, I’m presiding over the methodical rearrangement of my family’s entire way of life, I am in many ways way way out at sea, but I feel better than I did, I feel like there’s a future for me, I worked at getting here, and I’m going to enjoy that feeling.”

“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

* “Work’s like old age, milady: the worst thing in the world, except for the alternative.” Farmer Drewe succumbs to Downton Abbey‘s epigram epidemic.

* “It’s only me.” “I always feel that greeting betrays such a lack of self worth.” Shipping the Dowager and Isobel so hard!

* Was it me or did the Dowager more or less flee the babies?

* Anna tells Lady Mary the secret. Jeez, Anna. Surely you know what will happen.

* I’ve never heard anyone compared to “a sloth underwater” before.

* “Blimey! He puts a lot in a latter, does Alfred.” Can he cram in an explanation of why there was a storyline about him?

* “They’re sweet on each other, but it’s not as simple as that, is it. Then there’s Mr. Blake…” “I thought she didn’t like him.” “She didn’t, at first.” Anna and Bates taking the temperature of the vagaries of the human heart.

* “What’s the matter?” “I was thinking about a couple of people who are in a situation which will cause trouble.” “Will it make them unhappy?” “It’s hard to say. It’ll make some people unhappy.” Isobel asks the right question, there, and an unusual one. That’s the virtue of this show.

* Molesley and Baxter, sittin’ in a tree.

* “Won’t you defend your principles?” “No, not now.” Discretion is the better part of Branson.

* “Why ask the question when the decision has been made?” Another good question, thanks, Rosamund!

* “Well, I heard you had an interesting day. Whether or not it was tiring, you’d know better than I.” Worldly, fuck-wise Lady Mary wonders who’s been watering Cousin Rose!

* “If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner, she shouts.” We all know that person.

* Actually this is a very strong Dowager episode. “If I told you the truth, Granny, you’d never speak to me again.” “Then you have told me the truth. But I’d like to hear it enunciated more clearly.” And then, “I’m a feeble substitute for the entire Crawley family.” “Mmm, yes. But you’re better than nothing.” Lady Violet’s increasingly a creature out of time, her clothing like a time capsule that emits disses at regular intervals.

* “I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.” Tom Branson gives voice to Downton Abbey‘s soul. The rejoinder — very convenient when you’re the people on top! — is obvious.

* “I probably should have stopped it sooner, but at any rate…I’m stopping it now.” The sigh thrown in there is the first moment that Jack Ross felt like a real person instead of some very weird, like, Disney World performer. So this is the out Downton gives itself for its “no way, not even on Downton” interracial relationship — Rose’s rebelliousness and Jack’s inherent decency. Yeah, alright, I guess. I can’t help but feel that if this is the best Fellowes could do, he shouldn’t have done it in the first place.

* Tony’s intransigence walks that fine line between clever and stupid, or as Mary puts it, “I find that both irritating and beguiling in equal measure.” His puppy-dog Byron looks become him, as does that unutterably romantic kiss earlier in the season, though Mary and Blake obviously have the Sam and Diane thing going. I take it this love triangle, the genteel past vs. the rough-edged future, is meant to be the equal of a potential Mary/Tom matchup? I’m a skeptic.

* I have no idea why Robert and Tom needed to go to America at all, really — shooting schedules for the actors — but at least we got a nice romantic kiss for Robert and Cora at the end. They don’t get enough of that.

* “My dear, all life is a series of problems which we must try and solve. First one, then the next, then the next, till at last we die. Why don’t you get us an ice cream?” Huh, maybe this is the soul of Downton.

* “He’s the most unconvincing fiancé I’ve ever come across.” That may have been Violet’s best line tonight, and that’s saying something.

* Green’s dead. Not a big surprise.

* “Friends forever.” Well, I didn’t think they’d do it, but the Daisy/Ivy/Alfred storyline has redeemed itself with this denouement, a detailed and touching argument in favor of treating people with whom you’ve had very high-stakes emotional struggles with decency and respect. How about that! “If you were my own daughter, I couldn’t be prouder than I am now.” Even a Mrs. Patmore beat gets thrown in for good measure! <3

* "What sort of menage has that turned into while I've been away?" And a line of ladies looks on. Maybe that’s the soul of Downton.

“Downton Abbey” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Six

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Couple weeks late on this. Apologies, my lord.

* I enjoy when Robert and Cora mildly disagree. “I suppose we’ve made our decision.” If the aristocracy has always been this genially ineffectual how does it even exist?

* “I know plenty of relatives of English earls who belong in gaol.” You becha, Bob!

* Mrs. Hughes asks her not to send Bates to America, and suddenly Lady Mary gets stroppy about the servants not serving enough! I guess not everyone‘s genially ineffectual.

* “All those handsome stewards strutting down the boat deck.” “Don’t be vulgar. What do you know of such matters?” “I’ve been married. I know everything.” Worldly, fuck-wise Lady Mary is the best Lady Mary.

* Uh-oh, the Dowager’s got a cough. Cue near-death storyline!

* Even though his potential face-turn was abandoned immediately upon the start of the season, Thomas still has his good points, and his friendship with Jimmy, odious though Jimmy himself may be, is one of them. Watching them pal around is…nice…I guess?

* Poor Evelyn Napier, always the suit, never the suitor.

* At least Anna’s realized there’s no such thing as a secret at Downton.

* The Dowager refers to Isobel’s verbosity by likening her to “a drunken vicar.” Her conversational anticlericalism is a hoot.

* “Vive le difference!” Oh brother. Cousin Rose…there’s just nothin’ there.

* “But first, kiss me. Or don’t you want to?” “Oh, I want to. Don’t you worry about that.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! Rose may be kind of a cipher and Jack Ross is one of the most weirdly acted characters on a big show ever, but that’s a fabulously romantic exchange. A few more of those and there may be something to this.

* “Have you met my niece and her charming bastard?” Edith has learned the limits of the gentility’s gentility.

* “I’m killing the wanted child of the man I’m in love with and you ask if I’ve thought about?” We can, and should, take issue with Downton‘s handling of reproductive rights, but this line is a headshot on the well-meaning paternalism of the anti-choice movement.

* Keep saying “the pigman,” Downton.

* Branson meets cute with a political woman. I’m starting to worry that the show placing the shipping of Tom and Mary at the center of its entire architecture is a fake-out!

* Oh shit, Lady Mary getting muddy, hair down, goodness gracious great balls of fire.

* Yeah, a pretty grim take on abortion indeed. Don’t be a crying lady! Keep that baby!

* “The tears and the heartbreaks that’ll flavor my puddings for weeks to come.” If it taste’s good then at least some good has come of the Ivy/Daisy/Jimmy/Alfred storyline!

* I ship Mrs. Crawley and the Dowager.

* “You’ll be rewarded in heaven.” “The sooner, the better.”

* Lady Mary’s suitor can’t stay away. “Sounds to me as if the needle’s got stuck.”

* Wow, that was some look Bates shot Mr. Green. There’s the menace everyone supposedly sees in Bates all the time.