Posts Tagged ‘TV’
Any superhero story requires a certain suspension of disbelief. We’re not even talking about the secret origins and incredible powers here, mind you — a culture that can accept Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut can handle a few radioactive spiders, green power rings, and super-soldier serums with no problem. The real storytelling stretch that superhero stories ask their audiences to accept is one of basic human behavior. After all, no billionaire has ever spent their ducats to become a masked, armored vigilante, fighting crime in a gaudy costume under a nickname ending in “-man.” A good caped-crusader story — even one like Gotham, which several crusaders but no actual capes — convinces you that “well, yeah, no one acts like that…but what if they did?” is a question worth asking.
By that standard, Fox’s year-one prequel to the Batman story not a good superhero story. Oh, it’s a fun romp, from time to time anyway. As it approaches the mid-season mark under showrunner Bruno Heller, it’s created a more visually entertaining Gotham City than Christopher Nolan’s dour concrete canyon, a place where buildings, bridges, burlesque clubs, even bathrooms are just a bit bigger than our workaday world’s. The score, by Graeme Revell and David E. Russo, is similarly souped up, swelling and humming and clanging and making everything feel, well, like a comic book. (That’s a compliment where I come from.) The setting looks and sounds like a world where a man who dresses up like a bat and punches evil clowns would fit right in.
But tonight’s episode, “LoveCraft,” reveals a fundamental problem with Gotham’s tone: Evil clowns, sure, bring ‘em on. Larger-than-life heroes who battle injustice in spectacular style? Not so much. With a lack of actual bona fide Batman built right into the premise, the show pitch-shifts real life up a few octaves, sure, but almost always in an unpleasant direction. What should feel camply thrilling, and often does in the moment, winds up leaving you feeling as dirty as Harvey Bullock looks.
My skin is crawling and I’ve never felt more alive.
This, verbatim, was my reaction the first time I watched The Comeback just two short weeks ago. Actually, it followed an all-caps rant on my twitter feed to the effect of OH MY GOD WHY DID NONE OF YOU TELL ME TO WATCH THE COMEBACK BEFORE. A mockumentary in which the protagonist occasionally realizes the joke is on her and visibly chokes back tears? Where have you been all my life?
As the kind of person who could only like This Is Spinal Tap more if the “Stonehenge” sequence had been followed by an unbroken two-minute shot of David St. Hubbins having a backstage breakdown upon realizing his entire life was a miserable failure, this was manna from heaven for me. Its trick is that by forcing you to experience the humiliations of Valerie Cherish asgenuinely humiliating, with all the barely tamped-down misery that entails, instead of just as joke fodder, the show is actually more empathetic to her suffering, and harsher on the sexist system of celebrity that inflicts it.
So you can keep your Liz Lemons and your Leslie Knopes and their adorkably heartwarming/heartwarmingly adorkable tumblr gifsets—I wear all black all the time, for god’s sake. Give me Valerie Cherish auditioning for a role designed to tear her to shreds because it’s the only role she can get. I want comedy that hurts. If it comes in a pastel track suit, so fucking be it. And from what I’ve managed to see so far (the three extant episodes of Season Two and about half of Season One, which I’m HBOGoing as fast as my internet service provider can handle it), few episodes of The Comeback have been quite this painful.
Hooray, I’m reviewing The Comeback for the New York Observer now! Thanks to Drew Grant for giving me this chance to SHINE!
I’ll be talking The Newsroom, The Comeback, The Affair, and Homeland on @HuffPostLive at 4:50pm. Tune in here!
Nucky started the series as a crooked politician, but as Prohibition continued he became more of the traditional gangster. Was it the law that unleashed the criminal in him?
People were made millionaires overnight by Prohibition. If you were willing to traffic in illegal alcohol and run the risk of getting arrested or hijacked by other gangsters, you had to be prepared to do things you hadn’t done before — like murdering people. That’s what Jimmy was warning Nucky about.
You know, there was no shame about it. People had been drinking beer their whole lives, and suddenly it’s illegal? It was pretty hard to convince anybody other than the temperance movement that alcohol was this bad thing. It was just illegal, not morally wrong. Your average man on the street had no intention of giving up his daily beer or scotch — he just had to figure out how to do it. So these guys weren’t looked down upon. It’s not like they were heroin dealers or murderers. They were providing a service, a commodity, that most people found innocuous.
There was also a collision of historic events that not only made the gangster world possible, but were tailor-made for it. You had a generation of young men coming back from World War I who spent the last two years in trenches killing people for free. Now, suddenly, all you have to do is guard a truck and maybe shoot somebody, and you could make a fortune. Guys lined up all the way around the block to do that, since they’d basically been doing exactly that for nothing. You had all these disenfranchised, disillusioned young men who were perfectly willing and able to get into that business.
There’s a character on the show who says: “The premise of fiction is that people have some sort of connection to each other. But they don’t.” Is that your conclusion as well?
I think it’s a matter of perspective. I’ve always thought that when they say ignorance is bliss, the converse to that is that knowledge is hell. The more you know, the bleaker things can get. Jimmy once said that all you have to worry about is when you’re alone at night. You run out of booze and you run out of company, and [then] you’re really alone with your thoughts.
I interviewed Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter about the upcoming finale, and his next project with Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Bobby Cannavale, for Rolling Stone.
I’ll be talking The Affair, Boardwalk Empire, and Homeland on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert at 5pm today. Turn on tune in!
“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?”—Bobby Bacala, The Sopranos
“You tell yourself it’s quick, but you don’t know. You can’t know, until it’s you, and then you can’t tell anyone.”—Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire
In an echo of the New Jersey gangster masterpiece that spawned it, Boardwalk Empire‘s penultimate episode ever — “Friendless Child” — walked Nucky Thompson right up to the edge of the great unknown. He’s lost everything now, or close enough not to make much of a difference. His unlikely right-hand man Mickey Doyle and ruthless, loyal bodyguard Archie were tossed on the pile of bodies that’s been mounting around him for years — a levee of corpses designed to protect his kingdom by the sea. But that empire, too, has fallen, traded away for the life of a nephew who wants nothing to do with him to a trio of crime lords who couldn’t possibly intend to honor the agreement. When they break it, they’ll break it with a bullet.
But now that Nucky is alone – now that there are no more plans to hatch, deals to make, wars to fight – what does he see in his isolation? A letter from Gillian Darmody, and the sight of her face staring back, begging for help. Her plea and her gaze are an indictment of the terrible crime Nucky committed by bringing her to theCommodore in order to begin his long road to power. (A decision, we learn tonight, he made knowing full well the fate that awaited her.) By having her direct them not just at Nucky but at everyone watching the show, Boardwalk makes this act’s importance clear in no uncertain terms. That final shot puts young Gillian at the center not only of the frame, but by extension the episode. It suggests that the suffering of the series’ greatest female character is no less important than the moves and machinations of the men fighting for control of the empire she eked out an existence within. It shows that that empire would not exist without the suffering of Gillian and countless other people like her. It’s the series’ gutsiest, and most moral, move to date.
I reviewed tonight’s penultimate Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone. I cannot stress enough that if this show were the vapid, self-serious shoot ‘em up it’s made out to be, Gillian Darmody would not be where she is in this episode.
I’ll be talking Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and (god help me) The Walking Dead on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show at 4:40pm today. Click here to tune in!
And if you missed last week’s show, watch it here!
I can’t really excerpt anything from my review of tonight’s Boardwalk Empire without ruining it for someone. If you’ve seen it, though, please read the review.
1. Laura Palmer
She gave the show its central mystery, and its zeitgeist-conquering catch phrase: Who killed Laura Palmer? But even though her death is literally what made the story possible, it’s her life that made it matter. Unlike the macabre MacGuffins of so many post-Peaks dead-girl mysteries, Laura was not a beautiful cipher, existing solely to inspire the male detectives investigating her murder. She was a vibrant, complicated character in her own right, the person who best embodied the small-town-secrets theme, and who paid the highest price for those secrets. Her life, and the suffering that ended it, were always foregrounded. And our glimpses of her in the series – a videotape, an audio recording, a diary entry, a visitation from Another Place – were all merely a prelude to her starring role in the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, featuring actor Sheryl Lee’s tear-down-the-sky performance of a character coming to grips with the most profound cruelty imaginable. “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic”? Yes. But she’ll live forever.
I ranked the 30 Best Twin Peaks Characters for Rolling Stone. I got so much out of doing all this writing about this show, which I love deeply and think is one of the two or three pinnacles of the entire art form of television. I hope it shows.
In the words of Sick Boy, “Had it. Lost it.” I covered Homeland (the pacemaker) and True Blood (“I’m a faerie? How fuckin’ lame!” Indeed, Sookie, indeed) for Rolling Stone’s list of 10 shark-jumping moments from once-good tv shows.
I’ll be discussing the season premiere of Homeland, the latest episode of Boardwalk Empire, and the news that Twin Peaks is returning for a new season in 2016 (!!!!!!!! more on that anon) on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show at 4:50pm. I’ll be talking about Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, and Twin Peaks (!!!) on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show today at 4:50pm. Click here to tune in!
“You want it to be one way. But it’s the other way.” That’s a quote from The Wire, another great HBO drama of crime and community. But Nucky Thompson – and the Boardwalk Empire viewing audience – would do well to heed the words of the steely-eyed young Baltimore drug lord Marlo Stanfield. When a fictionalized version of a bit player in gangland lore declares war against Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torrio, and Meyer Lansky – the three men who established the most successful organized crime operation in American history – that war can only end one way.
Granted, it may not be as simple as Nucky dying in defeat at the end. Perhaps he’ll find some way to make peace with the kings of New York —”paying Roman tribute,” as he puts it to current crime boss Salvatore Maranzano right before the Luciano/Lansky/Torrio alliance tries to assassinate them both. All we know for sure is that he won’t be sending them to their graves as promised. But with material this varied and rich it hardly matters. The task of tonight’s dynamite episode — “King of Norway” — was simply to show whether a journey to a preordained destination can be worth taking. The answer is yes.
“My life is a fuckin’ shipwreck.” “Well, land ho.” I reviewed tonight’s fine Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone.
I interviewed Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter about the end of the series — and the start of his new one with Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Bobby Cannavale — for the TV Issue of Rolling Stone, on stands now. Says so right there on the cover and everything. I hope you like it!
Power is a performance. It’s a matter of knowing your audience, picking up on whether you should be funny or scary, when to play to the cheap seats or act with awards-caliber subtlety. Isn’t this the obstacle faced by Steve Buscemi in the minds of many viewers? His quiet, hangdog intensity as Nucky Thompson is an outlier in an era of volcanic, Byronic TV antiheroes. But that’s the point: For all his successes before and after Prohibition, Thompson’s decision to become more than “half a gangster” has forced him into a role he can’t quite master. As Boardwalk Empire hits the halfway mark of its final season in tonight’s episode — “Cuanto” — it examines the nature of that performance, and those of other characters who’ve found themselves shoved onto stage.
As a boy, the future chairman of the boardwalk is brought before the Commodore, who offers the young Nucky a glimpse of his grand plans for the Jersey shore (and an unwitting peek at his collection of photos of sexualized young girls), grinning when the kid notes that this is Atlantic City “as you wish it to be.” That wish includes everything from a stronger transportation infrastructure to segregated housing. But Nucky’s ability to follow along does nothing to placate his boss. “You think you’re a smart boy.” “If I say yes, you’ll think I’m boasting. If I say no you’ll think I’m lying.” “Don’t try to parse me.” The boy is trying his best, but this command performance is unscripted, in front of the toughest crowd in town.
So he’s naturally flabbergasted when he and his brother Eli are rewarded for going off-book. After catching them breaking into the Commodore’s hotel for a taste of the good life (read: indoor plumbing), Sheriff Lindsay takes the Thompson boys to his own house for a home-cooked meal with his kind, politically minded wife and smart, friendly family. They eat good food, they tell corny jokes, they negotiate a role for the patriarch in Mrs. Lindsay’s temperance crusade, over which the Sheriff conspiratorially shares a nod and a wink with Nucky. It’s too much for the kid, who breaks down crying at his first glimpse of a life that’s emotionally rewarding — a life where he can simply be himself. Cut to an hour later, when he’s asking the Sheriff to assassinate his own father. The terms with which Lindsay demurs are revealing: “Don’t go where you don’t belong. Don’t take what isn’t yours. Don’t pass your burdens on to others. Don’t make me do my job — because I will.” Know your role, Deputy Sheriff Thompson.
The rest of my review of tonight’s Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone continues along these lines.
The quintessential fan favorite, Locke was a role-of-a-lifetime situation for actor Terry O’Quinn, the equivalent of Ian McShane’s Al Swearingen on Deadwood or Bryan Cranston’ss Walter White on Breaking Bad. The revelation of his paralysis — magically cured by the Island — in the standout fourth episode “Walkabout” hooked many viewers on the show permanently, and his twinkle-eyed charisma and ferocious drive to master the Island’s mysteries were perpetual series highlights. Though he helped cause the destruction of the Hatch in Season Two, Locke ultimately failed as the Island’s would-be guardian, murdered by Ben Linus in a seedy hotel and never returning in the flesh. He was the avatar of Lost‘s great secret theme: that some people get lost and never quite find themselves again.
Unseen for what felt like ages, the Monster was slowly revealed first to be an amorphous black cloud, then a shapeshifter that could take on the appearance of dead figures from the castaways’ past, then as a Locke impostor determined to destroy the castaways — and then as the immortal Man in Black, Jacob’s brother and opposite number. In this last, true form, the Monster became the show’s true Lucifer figure, as the Man in Black’s escape from the Island would supposedly mean the end of the world. But it was arguably better suited to the show as a protean, shadowy figure of menace, transforming itself according to the expectations of its viewers — just like Lost itself.
N: The Numbers
Hurley’s winning lottery ticket. The Hatch’s serial number. Rousseau’s broadcast. A bunch of soccer players’ jerseys in the airport. Wherever “4 8 15 16 23 42” appeared, which was pretty much everywhere, fans took notice. Their actual meaning? They were how Jacob labeled the “candidates” among the castaways for his position as the Island’s protector, and took on a sort of universal mystical significance because of that. But that was just a McGuffin. The sense that everything was somehow connected — that was the point.
O: The Others
The sinister figures whose appearances were terrifying (and seemingly supernatural) in the early seasons, the Others were slowly revealed to be quasi-suburbanites whose misguided fanaticism about the Island led them to commit any number of atrocities, including the slaughter of the utopian science hippies called the Dharma Initiative. The show’s writers were never more inventive than when they peeled back a new layer off the Others to reveal some strange new wrinkle to their strange cult. Bonus: the White Walkers in Game of Thrones are called “The Others” in the original A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but Lost‘s shadow was long enough for the name to be dropped for the small-screen adaptation.
Lost‘s first episode — half of the two-part series premiere, the most expensive pilot ever produced by a network at the time — is as close to a perfect hour of television as you’re likely to find. Its opening sequence masterfully adds one disorienting element to another: an opening eye, a lush bamboo forest, a wounded man in a tattered suit, a dog, a bottle of airplane liquor, an empty sneaker, unidentifiable mechanical and human noises. It all climaxes with Jack Shephard’s emergence on to a beautiful beach and straight into a chaotic crash site. In a country still raw with post-9/11 trauma, the pilot’s air-crash imagery and hints at terrorism (remember when Sawyer viewed Sayid as a suspect?) dealt directly with our collective fear, as genre art is often uniquely suited to do. “Guys…where are we?” asked Charlie in the pilot’s final line. Millions of viewers stuck around to find out.
Here’s the L-M-N-O-P from the Lost A to Z feature I wrote for Rolling Stone in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary. Lost is the first show I ever wrote about for a paying gig, back in my Wizard days, and the responses I’d get to my posts about it at this very blog all those years ago are what encouraged me to pursue writing about television any further at all, o my relationship with it is one I value a great deal. I hope you dig the piece!
Ironically, the underworld is the one place where our antihero’s real-life inspiration — Nucky Johnson — made a legacy that lasted. As the host of the 1929 Atlantic City Conference, a multiethnic gathering of crime bosses from across the country whose ranks included such Boardwalk Empire characters as Meyer Lansky, Charlie Luciano, John Torrio, Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Waxey Gordon, Jake Guzik, and Owney Madden, Johnson was a pivotal player in the organization of the criminal network known as the National Crime Syndicate. This in turn was a crucial step on the road to the establishment of New York’s “Five Families” and the nationwide governing body called the Commission by Luciano and Torrio several years later, following the bloody resolution of the war between Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano.
But the Atlantic City Conference – like Arnold Rothstein’s murder in 1928, like the stock market crash and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 – falls in Boardwalk‘s seven-year gap between its fourth and fifth seasons. Generally, Boardwalk‘s storytelling instincts are sound, particularly in building to big climaxes, so that’s a decision worth trusting. Lining up the end of the show with (presumably) the final consolidation of power by Luciano and Lansky makes sense — and hey, nothing’s stopping us from deciding that Nelson Van Alden and Eli Thompson were Capone’s St. Valentine’s Day triggermen on our own. But given the fictional Nucky’s envy of Joe Kennedy’s legacy, cutting the real Nucky’s single greatest contribution to American history is a curious choice. However, Nucky’s conversation with Lansky in Havana, in which it’s revealed they haven’t seen each other since 1928, means the Conference never even took place in the Boardwalk universe — so it’s possible that the show’s simply playing with the timeline.
Either way, Nucky’s empire as it currently stands has narrow boundaries, and establishing them cost him everything. His sister and parents, including his abusive father, are dead. His brother Eli is in hiding. His surrogate father and son — the Commodore and Jimmy Darmody, respectively — both turned on him, and both died for it. His closest companion for years, Eddie, killed himself. He lost his first wife, Mabel, in childbirth and his second, Margaret, when she could no longer stand him. His relationship with his nephew Willie is cordial enough, sure, but as Kennedy notes, that’s a very thin reed to hang a life on.
It’s only in talking to Sally Wheat – long-distance love interest, business partner, and the closest thing he’s had to a friend in the entire series – that Nucky feels truly at home. In moment so sweet it’s shocking for a show like this, the two of them listen to “Happy Days Are Here Again” together over the phone. Suddenly a relationship between two Prohibition Era bootleggers becomes recognizable to anyone who’s ever enjoyed a favorite song with a loved one over videochat.
Well, I used my knowledge of mafia lore and close reading of film to try to predict the end of Boardwalk Empire AND compare a very sweet plot point to using Google+ Hangouts in my review of tonight’s episode, so I’ve probably peaked.