Posts Tagged ‘TV’
As a reward for all this good behavior, Helen apologizes for the choices she forced Noah to make, for her secret glee that his first book failed, and for her inability to see how important writing really was to him. “I never in a million years thought you would be this, this guy,” she tells him. “And now you’re here, and I’m very proud of you.” She means it. That this is coming from Helen’s perspective indicates she wants and needs to be seen as forgiving, supportive, and honest about her ex-husband’s character. But it also means she thinks he deserves it.
And on Noah’s side of the equation? He’s a drunken dickhead, ranting about how hard it is for white men to get ahead in literature (“It’s impossible to be a man in 2015!” he says, unleashing a laughing fit from his ex), picking fights with student-newspaper book critics, barely resisting the temptation to pick up admiring undergrads, and coming an unzipped fly away from cheating on his pregnant fiancée with his publicist. Yet even here Helen is affirming the better angels of his nature: “You’re not a dick! You’ve made some questionable choices, and you don’t like yourself very much for reasons I don’t understand, but you’re fundamentally a decent human being.” As we’ve been saying for a while, that’s the thesis statement for The Affair’s take on masculine martyrdom: Sure, we men make mistakes, we fuck up, but at heart we’re Good Guys—why can’t everyone see this? In Noah’s case, Helen can. He’s the one whose descent has blinded him.
Meghan O’Keefe and I reviewed last night’s episode of The Affair for Decider. The dialogue basically quoted my long-standing read of how Noah wants to be seen verbatim, which was nice!
What does it all mean?
I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean: that we’ve now been given all the tools we need to determine if Kevin’s visions are the product of the supernatural or psychosis. I believe co-creator Damon Lindelof when he insists this show will never deliver The Answers to the Great Departure, and I believe that studied agnosticism extends way on down the line to every seemingly supernatural happening on the show. Maybe Kevin really did mystically travel to the other side, where he underwent a series of trials and defeated his adversary, bringing himself back to life. Or maybe he’s a schizophrenic who drank poison provided by a suicidal pederast, had a hallucinatory paranoiac nightmare while he was out in which he processed his grief and guilt and trauma, and woke up before he suffocated. The results are the same either way. What difference does it make?
I reviewed last night’s extremely divisive episode of The Leftovers for Decider. I thought it was a hoot! Funny, creepy, and very bold. It’s only infuriating if you’re determined to read it in a certain way. Everything you like about the show was still there under the surface.
Actually, the Kilgrave concept itself—in the sense that this story and this story alone is what the season will be about—is working much better as of this episode. Unlike Daredevil, which kept its protagonist and antagonist in the dark about one another for some time and featured many mini-mysteries along the path to their final confrontation, Jessica Jones has been all about the title character and her nemesis tracking each other down from the jump. The decision to focus so monomaniacally on the mano a mano conflict between the detective and the telepath could feel either fitting or forced; around the point where Jessica learns Trish plans to have her fellow victim Hope on her radio show and freaks out, it fell firmly on the former side of the line. “He’ll be listening to her and thinking about me,” Jessica warns her friend, a wholly appropriate reaction. After all, we’re talking about a stalker on one hand and the woman he traumatized on the other—of course they’d think about each other all the time. The narrative simply reflects this sad emotional truth.
Unfortunately, the complexity, nuance, and willingness to take chances with the genre has yet to extend beyond these two areas. Put it this way: Aside from her zesty sex life with Luke and her ongoing attempt to process what Kilgrave has done to her and others, is there anything about Jessica Jones as a character you haven’t seen a million times before? Whether we’re talking about private-detective tales or young-woman-in-the-city stories, this exact combination of sarcasm, alcoholism, broken friendships, and regret is as common as spandex in superhero comics.
Speaking of comics, I’m loath to compare TV shows to their source material all that much, but in Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s original Aliascomics, Jessica was much less of a hardboiled stereotype, exchanging the live-action version’s sardonic stoicism for the jittery, high-energy banter common to the writer’s work. The result was a lively, lived-in character who felt more like a real person trying and failing to live up to her extraordinary circumstances than a noir archetype peeled straight from pulp fiction. The point isn’t “The book was better,” it’s that what’s on the screen isn’t working, irrespective of what happened on the page.
Superhero stories geared toward adults always run the risk of trying too hard to establish their serious-business bonafides. But that seemed wholly unnecessary for this series, which is so deeply tied to Jessica’s rape and trauma that there’s no need to take things over the top elsewhere. By this point in the episode, we’ve established that Kilgrave stole a man’s kidneys and left him a suicidal cripple between abducting and raping multiple women, recklessly hijacking the minds of countless people along the way. Did we really need to watch him make a terrified little girl piss her pants in a closet to get the message that he’s a piece of shit? The suffering of children is a tool in the artist’s arsenal not to be used lightly, and while it’s clearJessica Jones is taking the trauma inflicted on victims of violence seriously, it’s less apparent that it knows not to gratuitously gild the lily.
Compare this to our first prolonged exposure to Daredevil’s big bad. When we meet Wilson Fisk, we already know he’s used his massive fortune—and his equally imposing physique—to seize control of New York City’s underworld and real-estate market alike. But instead of watching him throw his weight around (sorry), we see him awkwardly flirting with an art-gallery owner, first at an exhibition and then over dinner. This bold, mold-breaking choice humanized the supervillain in a way we’ve never seen a live-action superhero project attempt before. And the show stuck with it, too: While it never shied away from depicting the ugly brutality of Fisk’s gentrification plan, it also showed him to be a man with actual, honest-to-god friends, who cared about him as much as he cared about them. Ultimately, he and his gang were as much a surrogate family as Matt Murdock and friends, making the conflict between them that much more compelling. This isinteresting, folks, and it made for a compelling, unpredictable hero-vs-villain narrative.
Making Kilgrave an unmitigated monster is a legit choice, don’t get me wrong—it’s not like I’m clamoring to see the softer side of a serial rapist—but it’s cutting off Jessica Jones from exploring a rich vein of character and story. Imagine Game of Thrones if, instead of complicated figures like the Lannisters, the Hound, and Stannis Baratheon, all the antagonists were raw uncut psychopaths like Ramsay Bolton, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, and those crazy bald cannibals from Season Four. Their thoroughly black hearts make them entertaining enemies, but it’d be tough to sustain the show without a bit more shading.
How high can highlights take you? How much strength does a show require for its strong points to overpower its weak spots? How does the whole become more than the sum of even its most important parts? Jessica Jones, the hotly anticipated second series in Marvel & Netflix’s partnership, tells the story of a private eye, so perhaps it’s appropriate that it’s got me searching for answers myself. Its pilot episode, “AKA Ladies Night,” contains some of the most powerful moments and challenging themes in the entire Marvel oeuvre. I’m just not sure that’s enough to declare the case for its quality closed.
I’m covering Jessica Jones for Decider! I’ll be posting a review a day every day till I get through the whole season. First up: My somewhat skeptical take on the pilot.
Then there’s the rap battle itself. To be honest, Hakeem’s defeat of Freda felt like something of a mercy killing, since the young MC’s storyline was a rare case of a plot element on Empire that never quite worked. Granted, the character was supposed to seem ill at ease in the Lyons’ high-powered world, but that out-of-place vibe affected how it felt to watch her as well. Compared to her convincingly sullen demeanor and angry outbursts, the idea that she had a take-on-the-world hunger to rival that of Lucious and his family never came across on screen. She always looked like someone who’d be much happier just battling on the streets where the mogul found her.
Let’s talk about war. We might as well; this week, everybody’s doing it.
And then there’s the sorcerer himself. “Who are you?” Kevin asks Virgil, awestruck. “I’m just someone who once had an adversary of his own,” the man replies by way of self-description. “One that made me do terrible things. And for those things I was shot in the chest, in the belly”—and here’s where it gets unpleasant—“and in that foul machinery below the waist, which transgressed the laws of man.” At this point it’s not hard to guess why John shot him, though the identity of the victim isn’t clear until Kevin brings up the shooting himself. “I hurt him,” Virgil says, referring to John. “I hurt him a long time ago. And then he hurt me back, and he freed me.” Now we have our explanation for John Murphy’s anti-magic vigilantism: If your abuser claimed he was cured of his desire to molest children by an otherworldly encounter with his supernatural adversary on the other side, you’d be pretty fed up with the miracle shit, too. Combining the old man’s mysticism with the all too real horror of pedophilia is dark fantasy at its grimmest, a conception of the genre in which magic isn’t simply a deus ex machina, but a force in human affairs with as powerful an impact and as complex a moral cost as sex and violence.
It’s grimly fitting that last night’s episode of The Affair took place on Thanksgiving, because it was all about the consequences of shitting where you eat—not for you, necessarily, but for your fellow diners. After another significant leap forward in time, we rejoin the merry band of Baileys, Lockharts, and Solloways after Noah’s (Dominic West) book Descent has made him the toast of the town, and a pretty penny to boot. But while he’s living large, the people whose marriage he helped break up are paying the price. Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), as you’ll see below, is facing the fallout from the ugly family history Noah dredged up in his novel, with a little help from family nemesis Oscar Hodges. And Alison (Ruth Wilson), whose POV comprises the episode’s first half, is struggling with a new life of luxury in which she has been reduced to a prop, or a PR ploy. Noah’s feast is their famine.
If you’ve watched more than a handful of horror films or TV shows, you know the ugly truth all too well: There are a million ways to make a denizens of the netherworld completely boring to watch. So praise the Lord and pass the ammunition: Ash vs. Evil Dead knows how to do it 100-percent correct. What this Starz continuation of the venerable “splatstick” franchise understands is that when it comes to the genre, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — sometimes simply building a better mousetrap will do.
When it comes to Lucious Lyon, there’s no separating the man and his music. The character plays like a parody of pretentious, tempestuous artistes — people who use every triumph and tragedy as fuel for their work and their bad behavior. No wonder stepping into his mind is like watching a Behind the Music episode. In a series of dramatic flashbacks, we discover the shocking origin of the gunshot sound effects that drive the mogul’s tailor-made collaboration with young upstart Freeda Gatz: That’s the noise his bipolar mother would make while playing Russian roulette. This raises two major questions. First, given Lucious’s erratic behavior, is he beginning to suffer from the manic mood swings that plagued both his mom and his son Andre? Second, if that’s the secret behind “Boom Boom Boom Boom,” is there a similarly shocking truth behind Hakeem’s “Drip Drop”?
When I talk to people about Fargo—an event which has taken place with increasing regularity as the show’s magnificent second season progresses—the concept that recurs most frequently is that the series is a world unto itself. “If they could sustain this magic in this wonderful world they’ve created for six seasons,” one friend said to me, “I’d be so, so, so happy.” Perhaps the best testament to creator Noah Hawley and company’s creation of a fully functioning universe up there in the blood-stained snow is that it’s governed by a system of moral physics all its own. “The Gift of the Magi,” this week’s episode, makes one of those laws clear: Optimism is for the homicidal or the suicidal alone.
Doing a bit of catch-up here: I reviewed last week’s Fargo for the New York Observer.
It’s been fascinating to watch The Affair tell Helen’s story this season. Both the writing (this time around from playwright and consulting producer David Henry Hwang) and acting (from Tierney, a series MVP) has examined her unique blend of drives, strengths, and foibles with surgical precision, from her rebound relationship with Max to her making-up-for-lost-time use of intoxicants to her struggle to parent both her children and her own mother on her own. Sadder, wiser, and wounded by the series’ main characters in a way it has the guts to show may not properly heal—a chronic condition, like Martin’s Crohn’s disease—she’s a fully realized, incredibly compelling creation.
At times it can be difficult to get on the exact emotional wavelength of some of these characters, because they inhabit a world with one major difference from our own: the Sudden Departure, and the indisputably supernatural event it represents. This doesn’t necessarily mean the involvement of God, or any kind of deity or demon or magic or religion whatsoever, mind you—a physical phenomenon beyond the reach of current science serves just as well. Whatever it was, it happened, and it’s been impossible to explain nonetheless. This can make the unyielding skepticism of characters like John, who insists there are no miracles in Miracle, difficult to swallow. (Nora, at least, has a self-evident psychological need to see the Departure as both random and one-time-only; perhaps we’ll eventually get a similarly illuminating backstory for her vigilante neighbor.)
But an episode like this helps illustrate the continuity between skeptics and believers, between those who think they may have played a role in sparing people from it Departure and those who fear they’re to blame for it: Each approach offers its proponents a sense of control amid the chaos. Nora rejects the concept of lensing or the possibility of further Departures to stave off guilt and fear, the only way she can keep going. Perhaps for John, fighting for a world without miracles is a small price to pay for a world without curses as well.
Yet a sense of safety is also why the townsfolk have embraced the eccentrics who slaughter goats or wear bridal gowns every day simply because that’s what they did on the day Jarden was spared, or why people are paying $500 per milliliter for the town’s water: Belief offers them emotional protection against the terror that it could happen again. On the flipside, Erika blames herself for her daughter’s disappearance for basically the same reason the town gives Jerry the goatslayer credit for preventing the disappearances: Knowing the cause makes the effect less frightening, whether that effect is good or bad. You don’t need to have experienced the Sudden Departure to recognize the universal tendency of human beings to look for heroes and villains, and, if no one else fits the bill, to self-destructively settle on themselves.
Is it premature to declare the birth of a whole new TV-show genre? Tonight’s Ash vs. Evil Dead episode — “Bait” — boasts more gore-soaked scenes than half a True Blood season and better gags than the bulk of the broadcast networks’ fall comedy line-up. What do you call the result? Action, drama, sitcom, horror — none of these feel quite right. It’s some high-octane hybrid of all of them, and it pursues a single purpose with all the relentlessness of the reanimated dead: to entertain the living shit out of you.
When was the last time the end of an episode of a television show made you laugh with delight? If you’re an Empire viewer, chances are good this is a regular occurrence. And if you watched tonight’s installment, it probably happened to you about five minutes ago. Cookie Lyons shows up at the house of her hot new security chief Delgado to finally set their slow-burn sexual tension alight; the guy takes off his shirt to reveal the longhorn-cattle brand that marked her son Hakeem’s kidnappers. And boom! A sex scene turns into a plot twist without missing a beat, or a thrust. It’s yet another “oh, shit!” moment of the sort that’s made the Fox soap so damn entertaining, week after week after week.
I reviewed tonight’s episode of Empire for Rolling Stone. This show is such a blast.
There are better shows than Fargo on TV right now, but I’m so anxious to watch each new hour of Minnesota noir every week that I almost forget what they are. Nearly halfway through its second season, it’s clear that showrunner Noah Hawley has once again put together a preposterously compelling crime series, one that leaves you fiending for the next episode the way Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, True Detective, and Game of Thrones have at their peaks. Simply put: Fargo is fucking riveting.
The Leftovers gives you a lot to chew on with no guarantee you’ll like the taste, and “No Room at the Inn,” last night’s episode, was even more of a mouthful than most. It focused on Rev. Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who last season was the star of what was, for my money, one of the worst episodes of prestige television ever aired. This new spotlight ep strings together a series of trials and tribulations in which Matt drops his phone in a toilet, learns his brain-dead wife is pregnant with a baby whose conception no one will believe she consented to, gets his head bashed in and his hand stomped on by a mugger who steals his ID bracelet and sabotages his car, pushes a wheelchair for over five miles in the Texas sun, loses a fight with a man in a wedding tuxedo, gets detained, gets thrown out of town, is forced to knock a stranger unconscious with an oar for cash, nearly drowns in a flash flood, loses his wife’s wheelchair, gets smuggled back into town in the trunk of a car, gives up his recovered bracelet to the son of the guy who mugged him after the guy dies in a car wreck the kid somehow survives, and voluntarily has himself locked up full-frontally nude in a pillory—and just in case you didn’t get what’s going on, says his favorite book in the Bible is Job. By rights this shouldn’t be any more successful than the first go-round. Instead it winds up being one of the series’ finest hours to date.
“People don’t see me, Cole. They don’t. They just wanna fuck me, or they don’t…see me. They don’t care. Sometimes I worry at night that I’m not a real person, that I’m just a figment of other people’s imaginations.” In this week’s episode of The Affair, Alison (Ruth Wilson) self-diagnosed her core self-esteem issue with a level of insight you’d usually get charged by the hour for. That she offers this analysis not in her own POV segment, but in her estranged husband Cole’s, is largely immaterial. Okay, maybe it’s proof that Cole knows her better than just about anyone, since this entirely accurate appraisal is his memory’s construction of their conversation. But it also demonstrates that Cole sees her as a woman in need of rescue…which is her point exactly. She’s always a character in someone else’s story, while her own gets pushed to the wayside.
But the show’s biggest selling point is neither a dick joke nor a Deadite — it’s the director. As a filmmaker, Sam Raimi brings every weapon in his arsenal to shooting this thing: kinetic but clear action-sequence editing, off-kilter angles, whiplash-inducing camera movements, and that signature evil’s-eye-view high-speed tracking shot. He has one of the few directorial styles that really does merit the ubiquitous comparison to a rollercoaster, although in this case you’ve gotta move down the midway to another attraction: the haunted house ride. The episode lurches and careens, stops short and speeds up, and always seems to have another jump-scare just around the corner. It’s all so gleefully gonzo that you forget this gentleman has helmed some of the biggest mainstream blockbusters of all time. Watching Raimi work his magic on the small screen isn’t just entertaining, it’s inspiring — a sign that TV really can do whatever it wants, and that the only obstacle is that no one bothered to try before.
I’m covering Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone this season, starting with last night’s premiere—a mixed bag, especially the writing, but with much to recommend it.