Posts Tagged ‘TV’

“The Alienist” thoughts, Episode One: “The Boy on the Bridge”

January 22, 2018

Playing the title character presents Brühl with a tough task. Dr. Kreizler spends his non-sleuthing hours dealing with the living, not the dead; his work with troubled and vulnerable patients — children in particular — requires sensitivity, gentleness and genuine care. As such, aloofness, arrogance and the other traits that typically define maverick masterminds like Kreizler would be out of character. In its way that’s a blessing: Do we really need to see the umpteenth knockoff of Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House? Indeed, Brühl imbues the alienist with a plain-spoken dignity, even in the moments when his behavior is demanding or shocking by the standards of his day.

But there’s a reason you don’t often see the phrase “eminently reasonable visionary” used to describe fictional detectives. (To be fair, with all due respect to our fictional Times colleague John Moore, sexually magnetic crime-solving newspaper cartoonists are rarer still.) Kreizler is so calm and so conscientious that he has a tendency to fade into the meticulously constructed background as a result. When he finally does something truly weird, delivering a concluding monologue about his need to “become” the killer in order to catch him — to “cut the child’s throat myself,” psychologically speaking — the change is so sudden and stark that the lines land with a thud.

The fact that serial-killer procedurals from “Manhunt” to “Mindhunter” have painted their protagonists by pretty much these exact same numbers doesn’t help either. It’s true that the source material here predates the current surplus of unstable cop geniuses, but this adaptation of a 1994 book about an 1896 crime must still move and thrill us in 2018. Like the killer himself, who escapes Kreizler during a peculiar pursuit through an abandoned building after taunting him with a grisly trophy, the answer as to whether it will remains elusive for now.

I’m back in the New York Times to cover The Alienist all season long, starting with my review of tonight’s series premiere.

‘Breaking Bad’ at 10: How the Gamechanging Show Redefined TV’s Golden Age

January 20, 2018

If the series has faded from the zeitgeist somewhat, you could perhaps blame the finale – an attempt to provide closure that was perhaps a little too successful, and pulled a few too many punches at the expense of “redeeming” its chrome-domed king. We’d hardly be the first to say that if the show had ended two episodes earlier with the bleak and brutal “Ozymandias” – directed by Johnson, written by Moira Whalley-Beckett and frequently cited as the finest single episode in the history of television – it would be a better show.

But this stumble at the finish line can itself prove instructive, since it provides a full clip of ammo for the fight over the role series finales should play in our assessments of series as a whole. It does so in much the same way that the finale itself existed in conversation with The Sopranos‘ cut to black and Lost‘s journey into the light, to cite two previous blockbuster sign-offs. Success or failure, it exists to be argued about – which is a form of success all its own.

Most importantly, and more than any other show of its time, Breaking Badproved that you can have your cake and choke on it too. Boasting roller-coaster thrills, catchphrase gold (“Science, bitch!” “I am the one who knocks!”) and a crack supporting cast so strong that they could sustain an entire second spinoff show (thank you, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito), Breaking Bad was an absolute blast to watch and a delight to look forward to every week. Yet it bore no illusions about the horrors being perpetrated in its hero’s name; it never passed up an opportunity to remind us what he’d done in the name of “family.” Its balance between the exquisite and the awful – thrilling us with Walt’s misadventures one moment, beating us emotionally bloody with them the next – was unequaled in its time. It remains an achievement worth remembering and rewatching. To paraphrase the original Ozymandias himself: Look on its works, ye mighty, and despair.

I wrote a Breaking Bad retrospective in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary for Rolling Stone. In addition to tackling the thorny issue of the finale, I also tried to emphasize the strength of the cast, the resonance with the growth of the MAGA alt-right, the danger of mere political readings of the show (pro or con), and its flabbergasting proficiency with action and suspense, which I suspect is its most lasting legacy. I, uh, kinda forgot to include this, but I do think that shows like The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story give lie to the idea that the antihero genre is a spent, or even destructive, force.

“The Assassination of Gianni Verace: American Crime Story” thoughts, Episode One: “The Man Who Would Be Vogue”

January 17, 2018

However you feel about Ryan Murphy’s other projects, ACS‘s debut season, The People v. O.J. Simpson, is unquestionably his apotheosis. In conjunction with writer-creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Murphy revisited a media-circus murder case nearly everyone thought had been exhausted of any creative or sociopolitical potential, and the result was a kaleidoscopic, knockout-powerful examination of racism, sexism, celebrity culture, journalism, the judicial system, the rise of reality TV, domestic violence, police misconduct, and the whole goddamn human condition. It was one of the best television shows of all time, full stop. Can Murphy, now working with writer Tom Rob Smith and adapting journalist Maureen Orth’s book on the case Vulgar Favors, draw water from that same dark well a second time?

Yes.

I reviewed the premiere of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, the brilliant new season of American Crime Story, for Decider, where I’ll be covering the show till the end.

Golden Globes 2018 Predictions: What Will Win, What Should Win

January 3, 2018

Best TV Series, Drama
The Crown
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us

WILL WIN: To paraphrase Bruce Wayne, Globes voters are a superstitious, cowardly lot. After anointing The Crown over worthy competition last year as a nod to our collective norms, expect voters to join the #Resistance and crown The Handmaid’s Tale this time around.

SHOULD WIN: As usual, Game of Thrones aimed highest and hit hardest.

ROBBED: Where to begin? The Americans, Better Call Saul, Halt and Catch Fire and, most flagrantly, The Leftovers are all all-time-great series that the Globes have seen fit to circumnavigate.

Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy
Black-ish
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Master of None
SMILF
Will & Grace

WILL WIN: This is wild: The only series reappearing from last year’s suite of nominees is Black-ish. Your guess is as good as ours, but this certainly seems like a sign it’s a favorite.

SHOULD WIN: Go Black-ish, the most thematically ambitious of the bunch.

ROBBED: The final season of Girls, critical darling The Good PlaceBetter ThingsBroad CityCrazy Ex-GirlfriendSilicon Valley, InsecureVeep … seriously, it’s easier to list the shows that weren’t nominated than the ones that were.

Best TV Limited Series or Movie
Big Little Lies
Fargo
Feud: Bette and Joan
The Sinner
Top of the Lake: China Girl

WILL WIN: Big Little Lies has the star power and the critical acclaim in the most perplexing Globes category of them all.

SHOULD WIN: Fargo, hands down. It’s a season of television that speaks directly to our current predicament without ever lecturing us about it.

ROBBED: Never in the history of television award ceremonies have shows been as badly neglected as Twin Peaks: The Return and The Young Pope. The latter is a contender for the all-time surreal greats right out of the gate; the former was crowned as “the most groundbreaking TV series ever” by this very publication. Ignoring these shows makes the Globes a goofy joke, to be honest, though we’re happy to laugh along as long as we can.

Despite not caring about awards, I’ve come to both enjoy and be pretty good at predicting them. Go figure! I wrote up my predictions — as well as should-wins and snubs — for the massive, crazy Golden Globes slate for Rolling Stone.

Netflix Turned a Creative Corner In 2017 With Originals Like ‘Dark,’ ‘Suburra’ and ‘The Punisher’

January 2, 2018

Call it the Lilyhammer of the Gods.

In February 2012, Netflix established its creative model right out of the gate. Its first original show, Lilyhammer, starred “Little” Steven Van Zant, fresh from playing a mobster on The Sopranos…as a mobster, albeit one who’s relocated to Norway for witness-protection purposes.

The road from Lilyhammer‘s quirky Sopranos rehash to Stranger Things‘ unabashed theft from ’80s pop-culture staples is not a particularly long one. All that changed was the company’s self-identification as a creator of original content rather than an online video store, and its subsequent accumulation of user data and development of a predictive algorithm to deliver the goods.

Many of the network’s original series —”original” being a relative term— speak to this desire to please the crowd with things that have already pleased them. Why have only one off-beat comedy about the mildly crazy lives of young people set in New York (Master of None), for example, when you can also have one in Chicago (Easy) and Los Angeles (Love) as well? It’s too bad Donald Glover titled his show Atlanta and took it to FX, or else I’m sure Netflix would have something on the docket for that youth-culture mecca as well. In a more traditional move, reboots are common, from the campy (Fuller House) to the acclaimed (One Day at a Time). And that little row of Netflix Original rectangles contains enough grim-visaged cops, crooks, and killers to look like a photo array you’d use to identify suspects in the world’s most focus-grouped crime.

Which is what makes shows like DarkThe Punisher, and Suburra: Blood on Rome stand out. From the outside, these 2017 debuts seem like status-quo programming. But each veered of the course they could have cruised down effortlessly, taking creative risks that yielded entertaining and provocative results.

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action: Over at Decider I wrote about the possibility that Dark, The Punisher, and Suburra represent a creative turning point for Netflix, in which the sheer volume of material the network puts out is now enabling some shows to complicate and interrogate their genre elements rather than serving them up straight.

The Best TV Shows of 2017

January 2, 2018

15. On Cinema at the Cinema / The Electric Sun 20 Trial

14. The Punisher

13. Girls

12. Dark

11. The Affair

10. Billions

9. Suburra: Blood on Rome

8. The Americans

7. Better Call Saul

6. Fargo

5. Game of Thrones

4. The Leftovers

3. The Young Pope

2. Halt and Catch Fire

1. Twin Peaks

I’m a TV critic, and to my astonishment I realized that this year I watched and reviewed every single episode of twenty-three different shows in addition to whatever else I watched for fun or edification. (Which to be honest was not a whole lot, considering the amount of time the paying gigs ate up!) I’ve always preferred tailoring my career to that kind of episode-by-episode writing (the term of art is “recaps” but thats a preposterously inadequate term for what anyone worth reading does) because it keeps the focus on the work itself instead of the conversation surrounding the work. The art is what goes on the screen and how it affects you, not what’s being said about it in tweets and thinkpieces. That sounds condescending, and I guess maybe it is, but I’ve preferred this approach ever since I was primarily a comics critic, reviewing three books a week every week for a couple of years, and tons on either side of that too. My pal Matthew Perpetua always took that approach to music with his Fluxblog — that’s how we became friends — and over time maintaining that outlook has been a real sanity saver. It doesn’t hurt that this makes my precarious full-time freelance existence a lot more predictable in terms of workflow, scheduling, and income than it would be if it were dependent on pitching new essays every week.

Anyway! It was an absolutely marvelous year for television, which is funny to reflect on given the wave of “prestige drama is over” pieces that crested during The Young Pope and just a couple of weeks before Twin fuckin’ Peaks. (I have strong, pretentious, goth feelings about why many of my peers prefer adorkable comedies to drama, and overreact to novelty over quality within the drama category too, that I’ll keep to myself.)

If you look at that top 15 list, I’d say the top 7 are genuine for-the-ages seasons of TV, an extraordinary amount of great work compared to almost any other time even in the New Golden Age. Twin Peaks aired the best season of any show ever, imo, and I’m not sure it’s even close; it was the best work of David Lynch’s career, and I love David Lynch’s career. (The blu-ray box set used a quote from one of my pieces as the pullquote on the back of the box, which I imagine Lynch voicing his approval of in Gordon Cole’s voice.) Halt and Catch Fire‘s last few episodes were so fucking warm and humane without ever getting sappy or feel-good that it skyrocketed straight to my all-time list. The Young Pope did, too, right out of the gate; I laughed with pure delight and admiration a whole lot during that show. With the exception of the animated sequence that ripped off that World of Tomorrow guy, which is very much not my thing, I thought Fargo Season 3 was unfairly maligned compared to its predecessors (and especially compared to Legion — there’s that novelty bit I mentioned); Thewlis, Coon, Stuhlbarg, Winstead, and Wise all crushed it, and McGregor caught up by the end too, and V.M. Varga is the villain for our time if you go for that sort of thing.

There were some surprises too. Like a lot of people I felt like this season of The Americans was impeccable on an episode by episode basis but didn’t add up the way past seasons did. To my shock, Billions became one of the most entertaining and meticulously constructed shows on TV, and all of the cast additions this year were a ton of fun. Netflix went from having aired close to zero shows I really give a shit about to three that I adore in what felt like overnight: Suburra, an intensely emotional Italian crime drama about three extremely handsome young criminals; The Punisher, a show that was much better and more moral than it could have easily gotten away with being when you see Blue Lives Matter-branded Punisher skulls everywhere you look; and Dark, a horror-tinged sci-fi story that is actually a ruthless character drama.

I don’t care for very many sitcoms and find it hard to compare comedies to dramas no matter what, since the main responsibility for characters in a comedy is to be joke delivery mechanisms and thus you can’t really evaluate them on a human-emotions basis. (Or at least you shouldn’t!) But Girls is basically a very funny drama, like Mad Men, or a very mean comedy, like Curb Your Enthusiasm, so I’ve always enjoyed it, and the On Cinema Universe is like freebasing Tim Heidecker.

The big letdown for me this year was Mr. Robot. I loved Season 2, and while I could see that Season 3 was a deliberate move back toward the more straightforward rhythm of Season 1 I was right there with it because it’s so good at portraying how bleak contemporary existence can be — until the big second act climax, after which I thought it lost its way. Oh well!

One thing I love about my job is that without it, I would never have watched DarkSuburra, or Billions at all, and wouldn’t have stuck with BillionsThe LeftoversThe Americans, or Halt and Catch Fire past their first seasons, or even just a few episodes into their first seasons. So that’s nice!

I also watch cartoons with my kids sometimes. Nearly every kids’ cartoon on Netflix is insufferable, but they love Gumball and Uncle Grandpa on Cartoon Network and so do I. Those are shows that really are for kids and are totally hilarious to them but are also totally hilarious to me, and not in a “here’s a joke about mortgages, Dad” or “now let’s get serious about our feelings, neurotic millennial who is also watching this children’s show” kind of way — they’re just funny, like Ren & Stimpy used to be.

I’m looking forward to doing more writing about television this year and doing it the only way I know how to do it. I’m excited to be off twitter for the process, too. If you need me, you know how to find me.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 70!

December 31, 2017

The Impact of Ice and Fire

For our very special 70th episode of the podcast, and our lucky 13th installment of 2017, BLAH is going big! In this freewheeling, wide-ranging episode, Sean & Stefan trace the effects of A Song of Ice and Fire (and Game of Thrones) on our lives, our minds, and our world. How has ASoIaF shaped your illustrious co-hosts’ thinking on art and literature? How can it help us understand the simultaneous rise of the New Golden Age of Television and nerd culture, including nerd culture’s toxic elements as well as its positive ones? Where would each of us be without it? The answers to all these questions and many more await you in the grand finale of our three-part holiday special!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 70

Additional links:

Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.

Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).

Our iTunes page.

Mirror.

Previous episodes.

Podcast RSS feed.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.

The 10 Best Musical TV Moments of 2017

December 20, 2017

2. The Young Pope: “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO

“Sexy and I Know It” is Paolo Sorrentino’s ambitious, emotional, confrontational series about an autocratic American-born pope in miniature. Granted, using LMFAO to represent your drama about faith, loneliness, power, corruption, and lies is a bit counterintuitive compared to, say, summing up Twin Peaks with a song from the Twin Peaks score. That’s the joke, in part: It’s very stupid, and therefore very funny, to watch the Holy Father dress up for his first address to the College of the Cardinals while Redfoo drawls about wearing a Speedo at the beach so he can work on his ass tan. Girl, look at that body … of Christ?!

But like so much of The Young Pope, there’s a much deeper and more serious meaning beneath the craziness and camp. To wit, the brand of tyrannical, uncompromising religion the pontiff formerly known as Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) embraces depends on craziness and camp. Look at the obscene decadence of his subsequent entrance to the Sistine Chapel, borne on a litter like an emperor of old. Listen to his megalomaniacal speech, demanding that the Church remake itself in his bizarre and imperious image. Watch how he demands his followers demonstrate their obedience by literally kissing his feet. It’s a contrast to the self-aware silliness of “Sexy and I Know It,” yes, but it’s a contrast achieved by taking that song’s boasts as deadly serious claims to superiority. He’s got passion in his pants and he ain’t afraid to show it. Spiritually speaking, anyway.

I wrote about the 10 best music cues on TV this year for Vulture. As is always the case with lists of this nature when I write them, it is objectively right and I shall brook no dissent.

The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #13!

December 18, 2017

Moment 13 | Re-Adapting A Song of Ice and Fire

When George R.R. Martin finally sends A Dream of Spring off to the printer, will a Game of Thrones redux be on the way? That’s the question posed by $10/month subscriber Tom Berman in the latest episode of the BLAM mini-podcast, exclusive to our $2-and-up patrons! Sean & Stefan discuss the likelihood of a second film or television adaptation of ASoIaF, wonder who might be suited to do one should it happen, and compare it to recent developments in the re-adaptation front, like Watchmen and The Lord of the Rings (kinda). Subscribe for the low low price of $2 a month and enjoy!

(Click here to buy this episode’s theme music.)

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “eps3.9_shutdown-r”

December 15, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

The best part was the axe murder.

When Dark Army fixer Irving drives the blade into corrupt FBI Agent Santiago’s chest, and eventually many other parts of his body, a lot of things happen at once. Bobby Cannavale is finally given a chance to cut loose after a season of playing Irving as a model of chatty, casual restraint; now he can go full Gyp Rosetti, and it’s a thing of beauty. Moreover, Mr. Robot has had horror in its DNA, from Tod Campbell’s often eerie cinematography to the roots of fsociety’s iconography in a slasher film; an axe murder seen in that light seems almost overdue. Finally, an explosion of intimate, savage, gory violence after a season full of tension and sadness, in which even a gigantic series of terrorist bombings is witnessed only at a remove, takes all of the show’s unspoken resentments and hatreds and buries them in a warm, wet body, over and over again. “These are for me,” says Irving as he sends his traumatized and cowed new slave at the FBI, Dom DiPierro, away. They’re for everyone on the show, really.

I wish the rest of Mr. Robot’s Season 3 finale (“eps3.9_shutdown-r”) cut half so deep. Instead, it’s a claimant for the most disappointing episode in the history of the show — a profound narrative miscalculation that sees the show retrench rather than create new possibilities, yet also denies the basic sense of completion and catharsis you’d think such a retrenchment would require. Axe murders aside, it just sort of sits there, waiting for something else to happen.

[…]

All told, it doesn’t surprise me that the finale, and the season itself, is being held up by other critics as a return to form. It was — to a fault. Audacious episodes like the Tyrell Wellick spotlight and the long-take high-rise thriller, the highlights of the season for me, now feel like respites in a long act of creative backpedaling, to get the show back to where it was when it was a zeitgeisty phenomenon during Season 1. “Like 5/9 never happened”? More like if Season 2, a phenomenally bold season of sweepingly despairing and vicious television that risked alienating the audience the show had built, never happened. We’re headed back to the start, and that’s not a ride I’m sure I want to take.

I reviewed the season finale of Mr. Robot, which made one baffling and disappointing narrative choice after another for an hour, for Decider. A truly dispiriting letdown.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “Alpha and Omega”

December 15, 2017

The true innovation and genius of Dark — the thing that separates it from even the most entertaining time-travel stories, from Back to the Future to The Terminator to The Time Machine itself — is that it’s not just an exciting riddle about creating and escaping time warps for you to try and solve, nor a chilling look at a dark future we wish to avoid (until that final scene, anyway). As I put it in an earlier review, “Dark’s true interest isn’t in the characters’ inability to escape the spacetime loop, but in using that premise to explore their inability to escape their own nature.”

The adult Jonas makes this point explicitly to his younger self. In the middle of a speech about how he has to leave the teenage Jonas locked up in Noah’s chamber, because his experiences inside will be necessary to make him the man he becomes, he drops what almost feels like a non sequitur: “Why did you kiss Martha?” Then he elaborates: “We’re not free in what we do, because we’re not free in what we want. We can’t overcome what’s deep within us.” At this, the younger Jonas begins sobbing, begging his older self to stop talking over and over again. “I want everything to go back to normal,” he says.

But there is no normal. Just as the wormhole locks the people of Winden in an inescapable loop of misery, so too do their own unchangeable natures and desires. It’s the boldest wedding of time travel to a provocative psychological theme I’ve ever encountered. For that reason alone I’ll follow Dark into the future.

I reviewed the season finale of Dark for Decider. It ends with my least favorite scene in the series so far, and it’s a bit deflating to see it reach the end zone only to trip over its own untied shoelaces, but whatever. Still a show to be reckoned with.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Everything Is Now”

December 15, 2017

It occurs to me now that among its many other antecedents, Dark feels like a version of Lost folded in on itself, in which the action on the magical, spacetime-traveling Island and the secret-revealing, surprise-laden, character-driven backstory flashbacks all occur simultaneously. “Everything Is Now” indeed.

I wrote about the baroque complexity of Dark’s penultimate episode for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “As You Sow, So Shall You Reap”

December 15, 2017

Like so much great genre art, Dark uses its fantastical elements not just because they’re compelling in their own right, but because their spectacular nature is closer to the inarticulable gravity of the emotions we experience every day.  Helge, Ulrich, Mikkel, Hannah, Jana, Jonas, the mysterious stranger, and (in a striking reveal) Claudia Tiedemann all seem to have driven to mental illness by the wormhole’s impact on their lives, but as another great work of genre fiction about family and murder once put it, we all go a little mad sometimes. And what else do the worst disasters and failures of your life feel like if not a tear in the fabric of space and time themselves?

I reviewed episode 8 of Dark, which really fucking went there, for Decider.

Awards

December 13, 2017

Between Bon Jovi, the worst rock and roll band of all time, getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Twin Peaks, the best television show of all time, not getting nominated at the Golden Globes, this is a bad fuckin’ week for awards.

The 10 Best TV Episodes of 2017: ‘Girls’

December 11, 2017

When 2017 lies dead and buried in the ground, “Separate the art from the artist” will be chiseled on its tombstone. But what will we find in the grave?

If it’s the idea that creators are shielded from scrutiny by the strength of their creations, then goodbye and good riddance. For too long, sexual predators in entertainment and media triple-axled their way across the thin ice of “open secrets,” their safety ensured by power. (Why, one of these men even became president!) The crack, the splash and the final desperate glug-glug-glugs were long overdue.

If we’re lucky, though, this year of revelation and reckoning will force a deeper reexamination of our desire to see artists and their art as identical, because that dull blade of interpretation cuts both ways. Like a bizarro Louis C.K., whose professional accolades protected his personal reputation, Lena Dunham is a multi-hyphenate auteur whose detractors see her history of poor attempts to address urgent issues offscreen and take it that her art is similarly inept. The best way to argue against this clumsy conflation is by example – and “American Bitch” is as good an example as it gets. The third episode of Girls‘ sixth and final season, what’s arguably the series’ finest (half-)hour attacks the creator/creation dichotomy with funny, frightening ferocity. This parable about abusive artists doubles as case for its own artist’s singular skill as an observer of moral failure … including her own.

I wrote an essay about Girls’ “American Bitch” for Rolling Stone. This is just the first in a series of deep dives by the usual murderers’ row of RS writers. Stay tuned!

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Crossroads”

December 8, 2017

As convoluted as Dark‘s plot can be, forcing you to keep track of a sprawling cast of interrelated characters across multiple timelines, it’s done an impressive job of making that task easier as the show goes along. This is where the show’s emphasis on the emotional struggles of Winden’s townsfolk pays practical dividends as well as dramatic ones. Like Game of Thrones or Twin Peaks, two shows that also boast large casts and complex storylines involving secret identities and family connections, Dark digs painfully deep into the darkest recesses and most burning desires of its characters, which in turn makes figuring out who’s who and what’s what much more intuitive.

I reviewed the seventh episode of Dark for Decider; new reviews will resume Monday. Use that time to catch up over the weekend, please, since this show is one of the best Netflix has ever done. (More on that anon!)

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine: “eps3.8_stage3.torrent”

December 7, 2017

The reason I singled out the kisses at the start of this review, though, is because they represent something larger. At an impromptu meeting between E Corp CEO Phillip Price, his once and future underling Tyrell Wellick, and Tyrell’s ersatz hacker ally Mr. Robot (who’s just Elliot, as far as Price knows), Price tells Elliot “World catastrophes like this? They aren’t caused by lone wolves like you. They occur because men like me allow them.” Certainly the past year of real life has borne this out. Much as we’d like to pin the rise and fall of campaigns, parties, and countries on rogue actors, who therefore can be isolated and eliminated if we’re smart and good enough, the real fault is systemic, and that system is run by men who make themselves increasingly untouchable with each Supreme Court decision and tax cut.

And yet! Here’s why Phillip Price, Master of the Universe, decided to hire Allsafe, the firm that Elliot and Angela worked for, to handle E Corp’s cyber-security, thus setting all of this in motion:

Stages 1, 2, and 3 happened because Phillip Price fell for Angela Moss at first sight. They happened because Angela and Elliot and Darlene were heartbroken over the deaths of their parents. They happened because Whiterose, as the cracks in her voice betray, is tired of men like Price, who “only understand force, and a lot of it. That is the only currency with these men!” They continue to happen because Grant loves his boss, and because Dom is a lonely person who turned to Darlene for comfort, and on and on and on. Systemic causes trump individual ones, yes. But the personal and the political are inextricable, because external power and internal passion are inescapable. If you want to survive, you must endure them both.

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Mr. Robot Season Three for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Sic Mundus Creatus Est”

December 7, 2017

“You don’t really know your parents, do you? What they were like as kids, or teenagers. You’re a family, but you don’t really know anything about each other.” Martha Nielsen says this to her brother Magnus as they lay in bed together, contemplating the disaster area their lives have become following the disappearance of their brother Mikkel. The most moving sequence in “Sic Mundus Creatus Est,” Dark‘s excellent sixth episode, demonstrates the truth in her words to devastating effect.

I reviewed episode six of Dark for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Truths”

December 7, 2017

This latest installment of the time-traveling trials of the men, women, and children of Winden is bookended by lengthy splitscreen montages. It’s the most effective, and stylistically bold, use of the technique I’ve seen since Fargo Season Two. And rather than showing us multiple points of view as characters move toward confrontation or through a suspense sequence, the splitscreens are used to compare, contrast, and highlight the emotional reactions of the characters to the romantic and familial trauma they’re experience. It’s like calling in Brian De Palma to cut an Ingmar Bergman film.

I reviewed the fifth episode of Dark for Decider, and this passage about its formal aspects is really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a very challenging and very rewarding show, and I’m proud of the writing I’m doing on it.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Double Lives”

December 5, 2017

There’s power of a different sort in nearly everything the Dopplers’ daughter Franziska does in this episode. Like a teutonic Laura Palmer, she leads a double life — star student and ribbon-wielding rhythmic gymnast by day, big-money drug dealer by night. The latter truth is uncovered by Mikkel’s goonish older brother Magnus, who’s simultaneously angered, repulsed, and attracted to the mismatch between Franziska’s emotional exterior and interior. Of course, he finds her just as magnetic in her gymnastics uniform, while his anger at her sparks a sudden torrent of truth-telling about the state of her family. The next thing you know, the two frienemies are fucking while fully dressed in the school locker room. Again, this is powerful stuff for a supernatural Netflix show to play with: probing the point at which intense feelings of any kind grow so white-hot that they exceed the capacity of the designated area of the brain to process and wind up fueling sexual energy instead, and depicting sex as a way damaged people can address the things that are damaging them without doing so directly.

I wrote about Dark’s very strong fourth episode for Decider. The complex dynamics in the Doppler family — including their extremely awesome and funny deaf daughter Elisabeth — demonstrate how the show puts in the work where other supernatural shows just coast.