August 12th, 2018
June 2nd, 2018
|02:17 pm - Fleabag? More Like T-Bag!|
Fleabag begins with arsefucking, but don't let that put you off! It's not like it begins with pigfucking. Don't look at me like that.
Instead, look at Fleabag, who is looking at you. Fleabag—who is never referred to by name, which is true of many characters like "Arsehole Guy" and "Bus Rodent"—invites you into her story, constantly addressing the viewer, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge is so incredibly deft at what should be a gimmick that she breathes new life into the whole idea of breaking the fourth wall. She will make comments to you in the middle of a conversation, switching back and forth—it's a testament to the rest of the cast that they never react to it—as if you're best mates. Oddly enough, I was actually glad I watched this show on my phone because it made that connection even more intimate. Fleabag needs someone to talk to, she needs someone to say things to that she won't say out loud, she needs to not feel so alone.
And the way she tends to not feel so alone is sex, as the beginning of the series makes clear. Pretty much every episode features one or two sex scenes (without nudity), which is why I watched this show in the privacy of own phone. But the sex scenes are never sexy; they are awkward and funny, especially since, of course, she cracks jokes to you during them. But this isn't simply some show about a woman sleeping with a bunch of men. The relationships that truly matter here are those with her sister, Claire, and her best friend/business partner, Boo (and to a lesser extent, her godmother-turned-stepmother and her father). She isn't the best sister (or the best friend, for that matter), but you can tell she loves them both so much, even if she doesn't show it or say it. Also, however, this show is about sex, and female sexuality in particular, explored in a uniquely honest fashion not often portrayed onscreen.
Fleabag is a hard show to describe, as it initially appears to be a comedy with the requisite tinge of angst and sadness but then proves itself to be far more emotionally rich than that, as the second half begins to pay off elements in the first half in unexpected ways, leading to the finale that stabbed me in the gut. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is compelling every second she is onscreen, and her performance in the finale, just, goddamn. But the show is also laugh-out-loud funny, with an offbeat sense of humor, especially with how it delivers its title card and end credits. If you have Amazon Prime and the time to watch six <30-minute episodes, it's absolutely worth your time.
Current Mood: anxious
Current Music: Alice in Chains - Dirt
May 13th, 2018
|07:50 pm - Atlanta? More Like Tales from the Hood!|
Donald Glover is certainly having a Cultural Moment, what with Solo and "This Is America" and Atlanta. Troy Barnes sure has come a long way. But what's the deal with Atlanta, anyway? What is Atlanta?
Ostensibly, Atlanta is a show about down-on-his-luck Earn, who decides to manage his rapper cousin Paper Boi just as he's hitting it big. He is so down on his luck he doesn't have an actual place to live, though he tends to stay with his girlfriend, Van, with whom he has a daughter, Lottie; they are...sort of in an open relationship but sort of not, their relationship status is definitely "It's complicated." Also Paper Boi's friend Darius exists on his own weird plane.
In order to enjoy and appreciate this show, however, you must understand that it is not the heavily serialized narrative we've come to expect from Prestige TV. Each episode functions as a short film, centered on one particular story, as it were, and the next episode will be something else, like the previous episode never happened. Which is not to say that there's no continuity; everything in every episode did happen and occasionally gets referenced. Sometimes a character from a previous episode will return, or a plot point will come back in subtle or major ways. The second season displays more of this than the first season, which frustrated me in the way it seemed to tease narrative (the second episode does result directly from the first episode, but the show abandons that flow immediately); the second season is more ambitious in its commitment to creating powerful stand-alone episodes but also more conscious of how these characters are changing, even if the big character moments aren't always onscreen (or if they are, the emotional fallout occurs offscreen).
Working both for and against it is the show's marvelously understated tone, cultivated both in the writing and acting but also in the direction (primarily by Hiro Murai, director of "This Is America"). Though it's categorized as a "comedy," it is only occasionally funny, as it's not about jokes but characters either being kind of absurd or reacting to other characters being absurd, but all with a grounded tone that paints a surreal picture of black life in America. I did laugh out loud sometimes, though, usually at anything Darius said or did. But mostly I was drawn in by the various character conflicts, like Earn and Varn trying to suss out what their personal relationship is or Earn and Al (Paper Boi) trying to suss out what their business relationship is. I liked when supporting characters got spotlight episodes, showing they had their own lives apart from Earn.
And then there's fucking "Teddy Perkins." Fuck. Motherfuck. Goddamn. Shit. "Teddy Perkins."
Atlanta is a hell of a show. It is not entirely my thing, since I do gravitate more toward serialized narratives, but I admire the craft behind the individual episodes, unsatisfying as their own open-ended narratives might be, because I just enjoy spending time with these characters. It challenges a lot of typical conventions, but it almost never comes off as pretentious, which is a feat. It's doing its own thing, and when it hits, it hits hard.
Current Mood: hungry
Current Music: Spineshank - Smothered
February 25th, 2018
February 22nd, 2018
|11:00 pm - BoJack Horseman? More Like Animal Far!|
Back in the nineties, BoJack Horseman was on a famous TV show. The show? Horsin' Around. The role? Horse. Twenty years later, he's all washed up.
BoJack Horseman is about an anthropomorphic horse who lives in a world filled with similarly anthropomorphic animals, and somehow it's one of the most brilliant television shows airing right now.
On the surface, BoJack Horseman appears to be a simple Hollywood satire centered on a horse version of Rick Sanchez. BoJack is a drunk asshole who verbally abuses his dimwitted roommate, Todd (human). His ever-persistent agent, Princess Carolyn (cat), tries to help his career by hiring a ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (human), to write a book about him. Diane starts dating Bojack's old "pal"/professional rival, the happy-go-lucky Mr. Peanutbutter (dog). None of this sounds particularly compelling on paper, but Raphael Bob-Waksberg takes these characters on rich emotional journeys through the course of the series, with each character trying to discover what they truly want out of life and how they can get it...and how they deal with their constant failure to get it.
Also the show is full of so many animal puns, visual gags, callbacks, and running gags you can't possibly catch them all on a first viewing. This is the wonderful dichotomy of BoJack Horseman and the fact that it balances this tonal mishmash so well is a testament to the skills of everyone involved. Even in a devastating flashback episode, you'll have some cute metahumor about flashback episodes, that's the kind of show this is. I love how unabashedly silly the show can be, and I love the show's obsession with rhyming and alliteration. There is a monologue in season four that strings together twenty-three rhymes in fifty-two words, and Amy Sedaris nails that tongue twister just like she nailed an earlier sentence with seven rhymes in eleven words. There's such a love of wordplay and language on display, not to mention a dedication to running gags I haven't seen since Arrested Development.
BoJack Horseman tackles lots of serious topics and goes to some very dark places, and it's able to deliver gut-punches so effectively because the animated format—and the absurdity inherent in the premise of this world—lulls you into a false sense of security. There's one standout sequence in the penultimate episode of the first season, but after that, the show regularly gets creative with animation styles and narrative formats. The first half of the first season is just okay, but the second half reveals what the show can do, and then it keeps doing that. The storytelling is excellent on both an episode level and a season level, with strong seasonal stories with emotional payoffs, some brutal and some hopeful and some a bit of both. What's truly astounding is that for a show where more than half the main characters are animals, it's deeply human.
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Run the Jewels - A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters
January 18th, 2018
|10:31 pm - The Indian Detective? More Like Russell Peter Sellers!|
Of course I'm gonna watch a show called The Indian Detective! It's about an Indian detective! Played by Russell Peters, oh well, I could think of many other South Asian men I'd rather see playing an Indian detective, but there are so few shows with Indian protagonists that I thought I could give four 45-minute episodes a whirl.
So Constable Doug D'Mello becomes a laughingstock in Toronto and gets suspended just in time for his dad in Mumbai to pressure him to visit, so away he goes...only to end up investigating the murder of a swami and then getting caught up in the machinations of a vicious crime lord. Also crushing on his dad's neighbor.
When it comes to the crime plot, The Indian Detective is fairly by-the-numbers, with obvious clues, weird leaps of logics, and ridiculously clichéd dialogue for everyone involved in the machinations of a vicious crime lord, including William goddamn Shatner, randomly here to be occasionally menacing. But because the show only has four episodes to get things done, it's refreshingly swift, meaning every single mystery Doug looks into is tied to the overall mystery (I say "mystery" but there's no mystery). Bodies keep piling up! Corruption abounds in both Mumbai and Toronto! Who can Doug trust?? (I say who can Doug trust but it's pretty clear who he can trust.) Hamza Haq shines as crime lord Gopal Chandekar and his twin brother Amal (he's so good I didn't realize it was the same actor for a couple episodes), and there are seeds of his being a truly fascinating villain with compelling motivations (he wants to raze the slums of his birth to build a skyscraper and prove how far he's come, which we know because he literally tells us his motivations several times). But, you know, this is not Breaking Bad, okay.
And what of the rest of the cast? They generally acquit themselves well, with Meren Reddy as Inspector Devo being my favorite secondary character. Russell Peters seems to be going for a Shawn Spencer vibe, but he is no James Roday. His jokes almost never land, but it kind of works in that it makes him doofily endearing (for instance, there is a running gag where he reminds people that Toronto is in Canada and it is never funny but the fact that he keeps doing it eventually charmed me). Mishqah Parthiephal as his bland love interest/Indian partner in detectiving is...consistently dull, especially compared to his other love interest/Canadian partner in detectiving, Christina Cole (also none of the romance plots work). Anupham Kher as Doug's dad provides both comic relief and pathos.
When you get right down to it, The Indian Detective is not a great show by any means. It's maybe not even a good show. But it's quite an okay show that does its job, even if it's a bit of a mess and it's flawed as hell. When I watched the first episode, I guessed that I'd make it to the end and be done. By the time I finished the last episode, I found I'd grown fond of most of the characters, and I'd even watch a second season.
Current Mood: contemplative
Current Music: Emm Gryner - Hello Aquarius
January 15th, 2018
|06:36 pm - Mindhunter? More Like Find Gunter!|
In the late seventies, FBI agent Holden Ford has a revolutionary idea: why not interview unusually violent murderers and figure out what makes them tick? He ropes in seasoned veteran Bill Tench (and later on, professor of psychology Wendy Carr) and lo, a special subgroup of the Behavioral Science Unit is born.
Based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, Mindhunter chronicles the early days of said unit, before we even had the term "serial killer." Nowadays, we take a lot of the psychology behind these people for granted, but this show is set during a time where they felt like a new kind of criminal. And so Ford posits that you need a new kind of FBI agent, a new way of thinking. If he can understand why they do what they do, maybe he can develop ways to identify them before they hurt anyone.
Not unexpectedly, Mindhunter is at its most compelling when the characters are in the room with serial killers, most notably Ed Kemper, Ford's personal Hannibal Lecter. Much of the dialogue in these scenes is taken directly from real interviews, and the actors (Cameron Britton in this case) deliver chilling performances of men driven to kill, who feel no remorse. No two are alike either; though they sometimes share commonalities that help categorize them, each killer feels like a distinct individual rather than a general sociopath. Ford and Tench try to get what they need from their interviewees, but often their subjects are less than forthcoming, so they must resort to...unorthodox methods. It's fascinating to watch them—with the help of Dr. Carr—attempt to get into the heads of these men and use what they learn to solve some other crimes as they travel the country.
While Mindhunter succeeds in occasional moments with serial killers, it is less than compelling as a serial narrative. It does not give the audience much to grasp onto in terms of a long-term plot arc or any sort of narrative momentum. It rarely builds to anything in any given episode, let alone the season. Hell, the cryptic cold opens following an unidentified man—I did not even realize it was the same man for about half the season, that is how obtuse these scenes are—do not build to any satisfying punch. It is as if the show does not care about sustained tension or audience investment. Plotwise, I suppose the focus is on the trials and travails of the unit itself and Holden's relationship with his girlfriend, but only in the last few episodes did I ever feel into the story, truly wanting to know what would happen next. That's also when the strongest thread begins to reveal itself, as we see how much Holden Ford has been affected by his work.
Mindhunter has an excellent cast and atmosphere to burn, but it doesn't seem to know what story it wants to tell, if it wants to tell a story at all.
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Cranberries - Salvation
January 4th, 2018
|11:00 pm - American Vandal? More Like Farrakhan Scandal!|
American Vandal is a show whose central mystery can be summarized in four simple words: Who Drew the Dicks?
American Vandal is one of the best, smartest, most well written, most well acted shows of 2017.
On the afternoon of March 15, 2016, someone spray-painted penises on twenty-seven cars in the faculty parking lot at Hanover High School. The security camera footage was deleted, but everyone knows who did it: Dylan Maxwell, the fuck-up with a history of drawing dicks.
But Peter Maldonado thinks he's innocent, and he's making a documentary to find out the truth.
Creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, with showrunner Dan Lagana, took inspiration from popular true-crime series like Serial and Making a Murderer, but it is absolutely not necessary to have seen or listened to any of their multiple inspirations because this is not a two-minute joke trailer painfully stretched out over eight episodes that alternates between dick jokes and references/homages to other things. It is a genuinely riveting mystery that's better constructed than those of some serious mystery shows, with twists and turns at every corner and dramatic cliffhangers that make the show incredibly binge-able (you're going to want to just sit down for four hours because, trust me, you'll want to know who drew the dicks). Peter and his co-documentarian, Sam Ecklund, dig through mounds of evidence, from text messages and Instagram posts to Snapchat videos and, yes, sometimes even actual regular photographs. They plot their theories out on a whiteboard, they attempt to reconstruct events, they do all the things you would do if you were investigating something far more dire than dicks on cars. And I assure you, the show never attempts to artificially raise the stakes with an actual murder or some shit. The brilliance of the series is how it treats this low-stakes crime with all the same gravity, and it fucking works.
Everyone fully commits to American Vandal as a legitimate documentary, and so much of the comedy comes from the fact that the people in the show don't realize they're in a comedy. There are only a couple jokes that break the fourth wall a little and point out the absurdity of what they're doing, and the show itself usually eschews the rhythms of an actual comedy, without obvious setup/punchline scenes, although there are some wonderful running gags. Instead the show finds humor in the characters themselves and the high school environment, which it portrays more accurately than, say, 13 Reasons Why (which I also really liked, by the way). People say funny things in interviews, sometimes regrettable things. High school kids sometimes act like silly high school kids. And Dylan Maxwell himself, well, Dylan is a fucking comedy goldmine and Jimmy Tatro deserves to be recognized for his incredible acting, not only because he's funny as hell but because he actually has a hell of a character arc. Some of his scenes in the finale, goddamn.
Because this show isn't just about drawing dicks. It's about the way we judge people and bend the truth to fit our preconceived notions. It's about how the search for the truth can uncover things you never wanted to know. It's about how making a documentary makes you part of the story. The finale of American Vandal packs an emotional wallop that actually feels earned amongst its array of dick jokes. It's thought-provoking and incisive, the show walking a precarious tonal tightrope and never so much as losing its balance.
American Vandal was three thousand times better than I expected it to be. I cannot believe they pulled that off. Like Dylan Maxwell, it's more complex than you'd ever think to give it credit for.
But also like Dylan Maxwell, it draws a lot of dicks.
Current Mood: impressed
Current Music: Nine Inch Nails - The Idea of You
December 3rd, 2017
|04:32 pm - Insecure? More Like Black Lives Chatter!|
Sometimes I barely hear about a show and then suddenly it is getting award nominations and being constantly mentioned by television critics and friends, and it is only two seasons of eight half-hour episodes, so watching Insecure seemed like a good idea. And it was!
Created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, Insecure follows three characters navigating personal and professional relationships in Los Angeles while black. This is definitely not a show where characters "just happen to be black"; their race and culture are integral to who they are. As a non-black person, I cannot speak to the level of authenticity in its portrayal, but given its writers and its reception by black critics, I am guessing it's pretty accurate. But this is not A Show About Being Black any more than Master of None is A Show About Being Indian; it survives on the strength of its characters and stories.
Issa works at a youth outreach program called We Got Y'all, which is run by white people and staffed almost entirely by white people—she is the one black person. Fun for her! She gets to present the black perspective and then still be whitesplained about what's best (or what looks best) to serve these "urban youth." Meanwhile, her best friend, Molly, works at a law firm where she has to code-switch to fit into a predominantly white male environment and fight for her considerable skills to be recognized. Finally, Issa's longtime boyfriend, Lawrence, doesn't have a job but does have a great idea for an app he's been working on for a while.
The basic storytelling engine of the show focuses on relationships, primarily romantic (heterosexual) ones, although Issa and Molly's friendship forms a strong emotional anchor. I love that they can fight and have real conflict with each other, but they still ove each other. They call each other on their shit all the time, sometimes playfully, sometimes hurtfully, yet they respect that they are two different people with different priorities. Even if both of them are still trying to figure out what those priorities actually are. Issa is feeling like her relationship with Lawrence is a bit stagnant and eyes an old flame, whereas Molly envies all her attached friends and longs to find someone to settle down with. If there is one constant in this show, it is that all three of these people make bad decisions. It's incredibly frustrating to watch, yet very human. People fuck up, people do stupid things, people forgive or they don't or they do and then they don't.
Luckily the show is also quite funny and charming, in ways both genuine and uncomfortable. Issa and her friends trade barbs like baseball cards, and one of them, Kelli, is particularly boisterous (though not always endearingly). Issa expresses her emotions by rapping at a mirror, and it's not always clear if it's a fantasy or she's actually doing it, which leads to some amusing moments. Nearly every scene at We Got Y'all has some cringeworthy moment, sometimes courtesy of Issa's white colleague, Frieda, who's lovable and awkward as hell as she tries not to be That White Person while working with Issa.
Insecure treats its characters like complex, flawed people, who want love and/or sex and/or success but don't really have their shit together in any of those departments, whether it is their own doing or not. It is a refreshing counterpoint to the predominantly white television landscape that doesn't feel the need to explain itself to its non-black viewers. And the season one episode titles are all "[Blank] as Fuck" and the season two episode titles are all "Hella [Blank]," and I love any television show with episode title naming themes.
Current Mood: drained
Current Music: Prodigy - Medusa's Path
November 23rd, 2017
|10:51 am - Broadchurch? More Like God, Lurch!|
In the small British coastal town of Broadchurch, the body of a young boy is found on the beach. Who would kill a child? From this great tragedy, Broadchurch crafts an intriguing mystery, a portrait of a family's grief, and the dissolution of a community.
Heading the investigation are Alec Hardy, an outsider with a scandal around a similar case plaguing him, and Ellie Miller, recently back from leave only to discover that this wanker has taken her promotion. She, like most of the town, knows the family, which makes it hard to separate the personal and professional. It's a volatile partnership, as Hardy doesn't know anyone and so treats the case as any other, whereas Miller always keeps the town and townspeople—her HOME—in mind. Plus Hardy is kind of a dick, though he's only a dick because he really wants to solve the case, it's all he has in life, especially after failing a previous family. He won't fail the Latimers. Keeping an eye on him are the local preacher and the local press, however.
Given that the show is named after the town, you'd think the SETTING was a CHARACTER, and sure, it kind of is. I love how much the show focuses on the townspeople's reactions and the difficulty of keeping a secret in a small town...that has so many secrets. This murder investigation threatens to expose a lot of people's secrets, which is great since it means more people have motive. But it's not all bad: we also get to see how the town supports the Latimer family in their time of need, even if it's not necessarily how or what they want. Each member of the family deals with the loss of Danny Latimer in a different way, showing how complex grief can be.
With only eight episodes, Broadchurch delivers a well paced mystery, even though it does tend to fall into typical rhythms like "All the clues are pointing to THIS suspect...oh wait, it's not him, now all the clues are pointing to THIS suspect...oh wait, it's not him...now all the clues..." Like, come on, show, we know the guy you arrest like three episodes in is not actually the murderer...OR IS HE. It throws in a hefty dose of red herrings (some of which are never addressed?), but the final resolution packs a huge punch. It's excellently done, and you can see how nicely it was set up, red herrings and all.
The first season functions as a satisfying miniseries, and it's clear Chris Chibnall hadn't intended to do a second season. But he did! And it's a precipitous drop in quality, thanks to ludicrous courtroom drama, but it also has a pretty good mystery plot, so it's not a complete disaster. The third season, however, redeems the show entirely, as it follows a sexual assault investigation with maturity, nuance, and empathy.
Overall, Broadchurch stands out among police procedurals thanks to its evocative, powerful mood enhanced by cinematography and score, generally sharp writing, and strong relationship between David Tennant and Olivia Colman, who always play off each other wonderfully, even in the subpar second season. Plus, it's a show with three Doctors and a Companion!
Current Mood: groggy
Current Music: Cellar Darling - Starcrusher
August 26th, 2017
|08:33 am - Big Little Lies? More Like Pretty Big Liars!|
Big Little Lies kind of came out of nowhere earlier this year, and all I heard was praise for the cast and the ending, so I decided to go into this miniseries not even knowing what it was about. You can also do that! But if you don't want to, I will tell you what it is about.
We open with a murder! All right, now we're talking. Someone has been murdered at a school fundraiser/gala/trivia night, and as members of the Monterey community provide their gossip-laden testimonies, we flashback to meet the characters in play. Madeline, as played by Reese Witherspoon, is very Tracy Flick-as-a-mom, aggressive and curt but full of good intentions, as she quickly befriends newcomer Jane (Shailene Woodley, fully graduating from teen dramas to convincing adult roles), a single mom with a mysterious past. Madeline's best friend, Celeste (Nicole Kidman giving the kind of award-winning performance whose strength is in its subtlety, not its showiness) appears to have the perfect life, but there are some troubling aspects about her relationship with her husband. They're all witness to an incident that puts Jane at odds with Renata (Laura Dern, giving a villainous character the humanity she deserves). Oh, also, Madeline hates her ex-husband's new wife Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz, selling a very hippie granola character without turning her into a joke). Are you still following me? Because by the end of the pilot, we realize that we, of course, don't know who the killer is. That's to be expected. But we also...we also don't know who the victim is.
Well, that's new.
Here's the amazing thing about this show, though: the murder double mystery, which is such a cool hook, quickly fades into the background. You think you're watching these flashbacks to figure out the mystery, but, no, the flashbacks are a compelling story all on their own. I became utterly caught up in the lives of these characters and their petty squabbles and their terrible marriages and their dark secrets, thanks to a number of elements. First of all, the incredible performances. Each actor refuses to make their character a caricature; not a single character on this show—even the unquestionably worst one—is fully "good" or "bad." Everyone has layers and depth, and we see it in their faces—Nicole Kidman can tell a whole story with the camera lingering on her face as it changes expressions—and in the frequent quick edits/flashes that illuminate a character's inner thoughts, both of which require you to pay close attention to the screen. I loved this latter technique, frustrating as it could have been, because it plays into the recurring theme of the series, which is that everyone is so much more than what you see on the surface. We see people having perfectly normal conversations, but, just like in real life, they're thinking of something else, something traumatic, something untrue, something wishful. It's such a great representation of how our minds work, as opposed to sitting in extended flashbacks. With writer David E. Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallèe on every episode—and may I just say I am shocked and relieved that two men adapted a woman's novel about women so well—the show has a consistency in tone and mood and style that's mesmerizing visually and aurally, down to the soundtrack, as characters are constantly listening to songs on their iPods (episodes tend to end on songs that make you want to sit through the credits and decompress).
This could have easily been some trashy show about rich, white neurotic housewives, trafficking in cliché after cliché, but the complex performances and artful directing prove it's more than it seems. Throughout its seven episodes, the show follows multiple narratives, and as it heads into the finale, the specter of the murder rises again, as we can see the seeds of conflicts that could lead to violence. The finale was so tense I could not bear it, as I had become so attached to these characters I did not want any of them to die (well, there was one I wouldn't have minded). I was close to tears multiple times, and then the emotion hits its peak in a culmination of interweaving narratives like I've never seen, a revelatory catharsis, and this is beautiful storytelling, people, this is what I watch things for, this is the feeling I want to create in readers. As the show was ending, I did not want it to end, I had been so sucked into this world, but I also knew it should end and not be tainted by a second season. This one was executed so well, and a second could not replicate the magic, as much as I'd want to see how the remaining characters moved on from this.
Big Little Lies is not my typical viewing fare. I love murder mysteries, but this is not a murder mystery, it's a suburban domestic drama about, honestly, subjects I can't relate to, like the difficulties of marriage and motherhood and how motherhood is far more complicated than it is often portrayed. Also more complicated than it is often portrayed? Women and their relationships (seriously, how did two dudes not screw this up). Plus the child actors are wonderful! I'm getting off track because this is one of those shows where I want to start listing all the things that are great about it at the end, so I'll rein it in. You want to see some great fucking television? Big Little Lies is worth seven hours of your time.
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Arcade Fire - Intervention
August 23rd, 2017
|10:27 pm - GLOW? More Like Crazy Ex-Bestfriends!|
A television show about a women's wrestling show called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling sounds ludicrous, but what's more ludicrous is it's based on an actual women's wrestling show called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It was the eighties, anything could happen!
Ruth Wilder is no wrestler, but she's a struggling actress searching for a great role for a woman in an age when all the best parts are for men (not too different from our own age, but shows like this are signs of progress). Her best friend Betty Eagan is no wrestler, but she's a recently fired soap star searching for something fulfilling. Sam Sylvia is no wrestler, but he's a cult schlock filmmaker who'll make a wrestling show if it means he can make his dream project. So he puts out a casting call, and Ruth shows up, and the rest is history.
GLOW should not work nearly as well as it does, given its subject matter and large cast of colorful characters, but the writing and directing are so assured that you always feel in capable hands. While every wrestler doesn't get the same amount of attention, each one quickly distinguishes herself (except the two designed to be a pair). It was hard to pick a favorite, no it wasn't, it was obvs Carmen, who comes from a wrestling family and is the cinnamon roll of the show. But I also enjoyed Melrose in her bad-girl awfulness and Rhonda (played Kate friggin' Nash) in her British dorkiness and Arthie in her South Asian dryness and...basically everyone, everyone has a thing, and you feel for their small stories, like Justine's crush on a pizza boy or Sheila's whole...deal. Even though Ruth is ostensibly the protagonist—and her conflict with Betty is a central, driving force in the season—it felt less like "her" show and more like an ensemble where she simply happened to get more focus. If that makes any sense at all. Because there's so much warmth and joy in watching these strangers bond over ten episodes and become a found family, which is my favorite thing.
I also love how much of a period piece it is! This show is totally eighties from the soundtrack and costumes to the VHS tapes and hostage situations. Unlike Stranger Things, which was replicating a specific eighties movie aesthetic, GLOW captures the period just as any other "period piece" would bring the Victorian era or the Roaring Twenties to life.
The first season tracks the early production of the show as they attempt to get it on the air, and at times, it's like the Slings and Arrows of wrestling with its behind-the-scenes shenanigans and personal issues carrying over into the ring. Ruth has the clearest arc, but all of the women are, in a sense, finding out who they are on this wrestling journey. While the main story follows a sports movie narrative (team tries hard, team faces obstacles at every turn, team is gonna lose BUT SURPRISE THEY WIN), it's a delight to watch because of the characters and all their interactions. The finale is incredibly satisfying on so many levels and sets the stage for much more wrestling mayhem in season two. And I'm sure Sam has some devilish plot twists in store!
Current Mood: stressed
Current Music: David Bowie - Blackstar
August 20th, 2017
August 15th, 2017
|11:20 pm - The Night Of? More Like Law and Order: Eight-Hour Unit!|
The Night Of begins with a pilot as exquisite as any independent film, absorbing and gripping despite never, as the AV Club reviewer put it, raising its voice. We follow Nasir Khan, a Pakistani Muslim college student in New York who "borrows" his father's taxi to go to a party and ends up picking up a Gothic Pixie Dream Girl who takes him on a little adventure. That leads back to her place. Where things happen. And then Nasir—Naz—wakes up to discover she's been murdered. Did he do it? It sure as hell looks like he did.
Through the rest of the miniseries, we follow several different characters. John Stone, the Saul Goodman-esque lawyer who takes Naz's case. Dennis Box, the soon-to-be-retired detective who investigates Naz's case. Naz's parents, who must search inside themselves as to what they believe about their son's guilt or innocence while weathering the racist shitstorm that results from a Muslim man being accused of murdering a pretty young white girl. Chandra Kapoor, another lawyer attached to Naz's case. And Naz himself, as he tries to survive in prison before and during the trial.
Here is the curious and masterful thing about this series: at (almost) no point does anyone with the exception of Naz, who repeatedly says he did not do it, declare whether they think he is guilty or innocent. The truth of the matter becomes irrelevant in a court of law; all that matters is what you can prove or fail to prove. The Night Of is at its best in the moments when it shows the justice system in its non-idealized form, laying the inherent injustice bare. All of these people serving law and order are there to do their jobs, and to do their jobs they must be right, they must win, and Naz is not the pawn but the fucking chessboard.
But you throw a chessboard into Riker's, and bad things happen.
The Night Of can be extraordinary at times, elevating the simple detective work or courtroom scenes we've seen in police procedurals time and time again. It can also be less than extraordinary, as with a distracting plotline about Stone's eczema that maybe is supposed to have metaphorical resonance but takes up more screentime than anything involving Naz's parents. I also found the prison plotline, pointed as it was, to be absurdly accelerated. To crib from the AV Club again, it was best when it felt least like a television show, and various moments rang false and untrue. While not entirely successful, The Night Of provokes more thought than your typical procedural and does it with visual panache and an assured sense of atmosphere.
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Conjure One - Make a Wish
August 3rd, 2017
|09:42 pm - Comic-Con 2017: The Totally Abridged Edition|
After one skip year and one year where I only went for a couple days, I finally got to do a full Comic-Con again!
I totally gave Alisha a TARDIS Beat to read on the plane to San Diego at the airport. I totally sat next to a woman who was reading The Magicians. The Manchester Grand Hyatt staff were totally wearing superhero shirts. Jen was totally checking in right after I got done checking in. Cat totally cut Alisha's Daenerys Targaryen wig into a Liv Moore wig. Cat totally had not aged in the years since she left the Bay Area. We were totally a mixed-seafood group. Seanan totally told me my hair looked like I was auditioning to be G.I. Joe. I totally snagged the #2 Jeff Smith signing ticket. I totally ran into David Server at the Star Wars booth. We totally walked the floor and perused collectibles. Jeff Smith totally announced a children's book. Pris totally found me so I could let her borrow a power strip. I totally teared up telling Jeff Smith about my Bone reading experience. Alisha totally made a line buddy who had extra tickets to see Conan O'Brien on Thursday. We were totally The Last Jedi. David Mack totally congratulated me on my successes. Theresa DeLucci totally recognized me at the Tor booth. Tracy was totally listening to Jimmy Eat World when we got back to the room. I was totally hungry so I changed a meeting venue from Dublin to La Puerta, but La Puerta was totally busy so I changed it again to Las Hadas. I totally saw Mary for the first time in over a decade. We totally stayed in touch over Facebook. Las Hadas totally made sure there was totally no cilantro on my totally amazing tacos. We totally talked about television shows and then we totally rationalized murder. The Hyatt bar was totally already a happening place. David Server was totally friends with the woman at the SHOUT! Factory booth who chatted with Alisha. I totally fanboyed the fuck out of Patrick (H) Willems. Patrick thought I was cool already but totally knew I was cool since I liked Tokyo Drift.
Alisha and I totally got to the Spreckels Theater at 8 and then totally waited three hours to get tickets and wristbands for Conan O'Brien. Al from Line totally showed us pictures of meeting famous people like Steven goddamn Spielberg. I totally went to one whole panel on Thursday. Gail Simone totally had to pee sitting between Peter David and Chris Claremont at her first Comic-Con. Her new series Crosswind is totally Goodfellas meets Freaky Friday. Gail Simone's career goal is totally to write Spider-Man so Nicola Scott can draw all that Spidey butt. I totally cried while listening to Linkin Park in a restaurant called The Lazy Hippo. My Conan ticket totally fell out of my pocket somewhere and they totally would not let me into the theater. Tracy totally found someone who could help. I totally ended up with a better seat than my actual ticket. We were totally enthusiastic for free T-shirts. Conan O'Brien totally made good Comic-Con jokes. Someone in the audience totally told Halle Berry he loved her and Conan totally made fun of him. Taron Egerton and Jeff Bridges totally sang Guys and Dolls. I totally did not sell my Funko POP! for $80. Aloe water is totally not as bad as it sounds. The line for the Netflix Experience was totally shorter than earlier. I totally took pictures with all the Defenders except Iron Fist. Alisha and Tracy and I totally took hilarious Bright and Stranger Things pictures. Tracy and I totally got matching orc gang tattoos. mycenae totally ran into me on purpose for the first time ever. I totally got eaten by the Demogorgon. La Puerta was totally busy but we totally waited for it. I totally ate tacos with fried crispy cheese-wrapped pollo asado. Alisha totally recognized Blake Anderson from Workaholics at the bar. I totally told him I loved him in Dope.
I totally woke up to find a man in my bed. I totally would have saved time by walking along the water to the end of the Everything Else line. I totally got in line at 5:20 next to the IMDboat. I totally met two teen girls who had never been to a con before. The Ballroom 20 line was totally shorter than I'd ever seen it in the morning. I totally sent Rob Thomas pictures of Alisha as Liv Moore. We totally got Psych pineapple pins. We totally told Timothy Omundson to suck it. The Psych cast totally cast each other as superheroes. We totally sang along to the theme song. Robert Buckley totally gave Eric Goldman a Killer Abs shirt. Rose McIver totally wore the Killer Abs shirt. Rahul Kohli totally did not wear the Killer Abs shirt. Robert Knepper totally made a video appearance to announce he would totally be a series regular. David Anders totally sang the first line of "You'll Be Back." The Eduardo Risso signing totally had wristbands but there was no line so it totally didn't matter. Eduardo Risso was totally flattered by how much I loved his artistic contribution to 100 Bullets. I totally re-bought the Lying Cat shirt. There was totally a family of Saga cosplayers with a baby Hazel and kid Hazel. Marguerite Bennett totally thought Batman was a bad guy who felt bad about being bad and so he fought bad guys. A Jewish woman was totally thankful for the Jewish representation in Gotham City Bombshells. Ryan North was totally adorably flustered upon discovering Marguerite Bennett had named an Animosity character after him. I totally congratulated Ryan North on another successful Kickstarter. mycenae had totally given me her extra Legion panel fulfillment ticket so I totally went back to the Hyatt to get fulfilled. The Legion shirt was totally simple but totally comfortable. I totally danced the Legion dance in Legion. Animosity totally sounded cool and Ryan North totally thought I'd like it so I totally bought it and got Marguerite Bennett to sign it. Daryl Gregory totally could not promote Spoonbenders any better than "Arrested Development but they're psychic." Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and Nathan Gooden totally signed my Zojaqan #1. The woman wearing Danielle Stokdyk's badge was totally not Danielle Stokdyk. I totally fanboyed the fuck out of iZombie writer Josh Bellina, who writes the totally hilarious chapter titles. Kate Leth totally signed my "All books are girl books" shirt. foresthouse was totally late to our Comic-Con dinner again but now it's totally tradition. foresthouse's boss and boyfriend totally joined us at the Cheesecake Factory. I totally regaled them with tales of my adventures. A Power Ranger was totally talking when I walked into Room 6DE. Jon Bailey, voice of Honest Trailers, totally introduced the Screen Junkies panel. MovieFights totally featured celebrity guests Tony Revolori, Samm Levin, and Doug Benson. Tony Revolori totally led the audience in a round of "Penis!" "Parker!" Doug Benson was totally high but totally made a good argument against Human Centipede cosplay. We totally got to see an Honest Trailer for The Incredible Hulk with alternate jokes. The Hilton Bayfront was totally hopping post-Eisners. I totally told Tracy the story of how I met Dahlia. Dahlia's friend Vijay totally had an X-Files tattoo. I totally tried to introduce Tracy to Ryan North but I totally failed. I also totally failed to talk to Phil LaMarr. Tracy and I totally talked to Shannon Wheeler's son. Berkeley is totally possibly amoral.
I totally sat in the 5AB line next to the two people who watch Halt and Catch Fire. Roxane Gay totally hasn't seen Wonder Woman but totally recommends a show she calls "Chopped for blade makers." I totally did not ask Roxane Gay her Fast and Furious movie rankings. A man on the mezzanine was totally promoting swordfights on the terrace so I totally went outside. A whole bunch of Star Wars cosplayers were totally gathered. A bunch of men in actual steel armor totally fought each other in the San Diego heat. The Mystery Knight was totally Deadpool. I totally met Aprotim and Lauren and a much older Ashima in the same place we'd met on the floor three years ago. Dave Porter totally Saulified the Breaking Bad theme before being told to do a completely different style. Kyle Dixon totally didn't tell his friends he did the music for Stranger Things. I totally told the composers of Stranger Things my brother loved the music. The composers of Stranger Things totally could not name synthwave bands they liked. I totally got a Better Call Saul soundtrack for asking a question and Dave Porter totally signed it. I totally left Room 9 to try to get into Room 7AB but then I couldn't get into either of them so I totally chilled. Room 25ABC totally cleared out after the Monster Hunter panel. I totally congratulatd Ryan North on winning Eisners. People totally clapped in appreciation for my praise of Sana Amanat. Sana Amanat totally thinks she's one of the most important people in comics. Rainbow Rowell totally thanked me for praising her in front of her boss. I totally told Sana Amanat about UFISP. Eduardo Risso totally gave his spotlight panel in Spanish. I guess my question for him was totally untranslatable because he totally had no answer. I totally followed a Morty to the epic line for the Rick and Morty event in Petco Park. The Pop Culture Meseeks totally asked a guy why he was wearing a Monsters University hat if he didn't go to Monsters University. I totally hung out with a Rick name Boris. I totally chose the Rick mask with an eyepatch. The Pickle Rick shirt was totally $30 and totally just Pickle Rick on a shirt. The hosts of the event were totally not funny. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland totally came out for like only five seconds. It was totally fun to watch Rick and Morty with 4,000 other fans. We totally saw the second episode of the new season before everyone else. I totally did not talk to Rainbow Rowell at the Hilton Bayfront. I totally did not talk to anyone at the Hyatt.
The 7AB line was totally short. I was totally surrounded by nerrrrrrds. Sexist dudes behind me totally thought Batgirl was added to the animated series to make girls watch...and their dads watch. I totally entered a Buffy conversation by correcting a man's misquoting of Giles's famous surprise entrance line. Paul Dini totally stopped going to philosophy class to avoid an ex-girlfriend but totally graduated thanks to cartooning credits. Paul Dini's favorite cartoon dog is totally Goofy. Bruce Timm totally had no moderator. People asking questions totally loved Justice League: Gods and Monsters. The audience totally applauded for my statement that for many people Batman: The Animated Series was the definitive version of Batman and Joker and such. Bruce Timm totally thought I was baiting him by asking how it felt to see all these new live-action versions of characters he'd worked so closely with. Deadpool totally stood up and asked when he was going to get his chance at Deadshot but Bruce Timm totally told him to wait in line like everyone else. Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman totally talked to Buffy people for their oral history book. David Greenwalt totally told Glenn Quinn that he was a serial killer and he would kill his character. Armin Shimerman totally got the part of Snyder by being a jerk. I totally bought an art book from Michael Manomivibul, an artist I've totally run into a couple times. He totally said we should meet for coffee. Nidhi Chanani totally took a couple of her precious free minutes to talk to me. Seanan totally would have been prom queen if she were made of acid and knives. Alien/Predator fans totally care about alien biology. Seanan totally gave me a Brightest Fell ARC. I totally made it harder for Pris to find me by wearing my Rick mask. I totally dared to eat a peach. Lobster deviled eggs totally drew me to New York West. Alisha and I totally ran into Megan Whalen Turner on the way back from dinner. I totally watched Game of Thrones on HBO GO before I got spoiled. Alisha totally saw me in scrubs for the first time.
At the airport a woman and I were totally wearing the same Legion shirt.
Current Mood: hungry
Current Music: Linkin Park - Waiting for the End
July 14th, 2017
|10:16 am - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? More Like Lazy Sex Curl, Friend!|
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend may be one of the most brilliant, revolutionary, important, yet criminally underrated shows in the history of television, and I am only being partly hyperbolic here because wow. The brainchild of Rachel Bloom of "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" fame and Aline Brosh McKenna of The Devil Wears Prada fame (and as much as Rachel Bloom is the public face of the show, it's important to remember they're equal partners in this endeavor), with musical assistance by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne fame, this show will sing and dance its way into your heart and then fuck with your brain.
Rachel Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, a well-educated, high-powered New York lawyer with clear mental health issues (our first real look at her is stark and pained). On the same day she's offered a big promotion, she runs into Josh Chan, with whom she had a summer camp romance as a teenager (making her an ex-girlfriend), and then...quits her job and follows him to his hometown of West Covina, California (making her crazy). If you think about it, though, this kind of wild, spontaneous act is the core of so many romantic comedies, but here it's portrayed as A Very Bad Idea That Everyone But the Protagonist Realizes Is a Bad Idea, and that's what makes this show tick.
Once in West Covina, Rebecca makes it her mission to win back Josh, even though he's been dating the same woman for years. Aiding her in this mission is her co-worker Paula, who is the enablingest enabler who ever enabled. Studying her is her neighbor Heather, whose dry, Daria-esque demeanor cannot be penetrated by Rebecca's boisterous delusions. Employing her is her boss Darryl, who wants to be everyone's best friend. But hold up, there's a wrinkle in the form of Josh's friend Greg, who instantly falls for Rebecca himself. Shenanigans will ensue. Oh will they ever.
On the surface, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend looks like a typical romantic comedy, but as it cleverly leans into all your favorite (or least favorite) tropes, it's slyly planning to subvert them hard. This show systematically deconstructs everything popular culture has told us about love and relationships, implicitly criticizing them simply by playing them straight and explicitly criticizing them in both dialogue and song. It's an aggressive assault on the expected narrative, and it doesn't stop at rom-com tropes. It addresses various "taboo" topics like periods, UTIs, abortions, and such (so by taboo I mean female) candidly, as if...as if they are just parts of everyday life for women and we shouldn't constantly avoid talking about them. Despite the focus on a heterosexual romance, the show has prominent, non-tragic queer characters and eventually leans in hard on the side of female friendships. Where most shows would zig, it refreshingly zags. Plus the love interest is Filipino-American, there are a couple women of color, and all of these various characters get focus. They have their own stories, they are their own beautiful, rich, complex people. (They are also kind of awful people much of the time, but the show recognizes their awfulness and both has enough heart to sympathize with them despite their bad choices and allows them to grow.)
Oh, right, it's also a musical with amazing songs that span musical genres from country to hardcore punk, with a healthy dose of traditional musical theater in the middle. As in any good musical, the songs drive the narrative and illuminate character, and they're catchy as fuck. Each one functions as a cute parody of something you're familiar with while also being a great example of that thing, with hilarious lyrics about texting or ping pong.
I could write so much more about why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is incredible, but it's even better to experience it for yourself and let it continue to surprise you with its dedication to callbacks and skillful episodic plotting, not to mention some of the best tags since Community. It's smart as hell and also fun, whose realistic darkness never drowns out its whimsical silliness. It's not every day I encounter a show that constantly makes me think "How is this a real show, how was this allowed to happen?" Also the cast is uniformly wonderful. The characters drink a lot of boba tea. There's some great metahumor. One of the writers is a Patel and named a character Sunil. Okay I'll stop now.
Current Mood: impressed
Current Music: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - The Math of Love Triangles
July 11th, 2017
|02:33 pm - Brown Nation? More Like Clown Station!|
A few months ago when the new season of Master of None came out, I found myself on the Wikipedia page for "American television shows with Asian leads" and discovered that there existed a Netflix show called Brown Nation that was practically ALL Asian leads! South Asian leads, even! How had I never heard about it? Seeing that it was only 10 20-minute episodes, I started watching during my lunch break at work.
Brown Nation follows the trials of tribulations of Hasmukh (yeah, this show is about a motherfucker named HASMUKH, this show is Desi as fuck), who runs Shree Ganesh Computers Limited Inc, a struggling IT company specializing in Citrus (presumably a take-off on Citrix). His wife, Dimple, loves her little dog, Bobby, and her Papaji, but she wants to explore her artistic side. (In true sitcom fashion, of course, Hasmukh is an average-looking schlub whereas Dimple is the opposite of that.) His friend Hyder (Lebanese, everyone else is Indian) is fun comic relief with his endless get-rich-quick schemes. Hasmukh's company is staffed with Indians as well but for one white guy, Matt, the only white man in the credits. Of the workers at Shree Ganesh, the endearingly dim Balan is the most memorable, but Roli, Gautam, and Mookie (these names!) also make their impressions.
Creator Abi Varghese describes Brown Nation as "Everybody Loves Raymond meets The Office," and that's a fair assessment. It's a single-camera comedy with a multi-camera sensibility. It's generally cute and amusing, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but it knows what it is. It doesn't have extremely high ambitions; it's not trying to be a Master of None-style manifesto on Life as an Indian-American. There are some ongoing storylines, but continuity isn't a huge concern. It wants to be light fun.
And that's what's so great about it. It's light fun...that just happens to be all about brown people. Plus, it exists in this beautiful middle space where it can appeal to both American audiences and Indian audiences without pandering to either. It doesn't go so far in We're So Indian that it alienates non-Indian viewers (even if you don't recognize Bollywood film stars' names, you can understand in context who's famous and who's not), and it doesn't attempt to homogenize these characters and gloss over their essential cultural differences. Plus, given the recent conversation about the trend in popular media to show brown men pursuing white women, I do appreciate that this show features several brown men with brown women. It happens!
Brown Nation is not perfect by any means. It could have stronger continuity, the supporting characters are underserved, and it could be funnier. But it's consistently enjoyable, and I stretched out my viewing as long as I could because I was growing more and more fond of these characters. It's a wonderful cast, and I hope to see them in other projects. Perhaps even Brown Nation S2!
Current Mood: full
Current Music: Ulrich Schnauss - A Letter from Home
April 21st, 2017
|08:13 pm - Rick and Morty? More Like Dick and Shorty!|
A couple years ago, people started raving about this show Rick and Morty, some weird cartoon co-created by Dan Harmon of Community fame. It was wacky sci-fi and it was brilliant and I would love it, they said. Flash forward to this year when my brother and sister-in-law were flabbergasted that I had not seen one of their favorite shows ever, and then flash forward to now, when I have watched it. Time travel is fun, right??
Rick and Morty is about Rick and Morty. Rick is a mad scientist, and Morty is his dimwitted grandson. Both voiced by co-creator Justin Roiland, their repartee is always sharp, ridiculous, hilarious, and utterly unique in its cadence and delivery, thanks to Rick's intermittent belches and tendency to address Morty by name multiple times and Morty's extreme anxiety and stuttering. It's a treat to listen to Roiland characterize them simply through his voice. Rick and Morty go on wacky sci-fi adventures, much to the consternation of their family. Beth, Rick's daughter and Morty's mom, loves her father despite the fact that he's a raging alcoholic asshole. Jerry, Beth's husband and Morty's dad, has no such love for his father-in-law; also it is clear where Morty gets his dimwittedness from. Summer, Morty's sister, takes more after her mother (who, I should mention, is a horse surgeon). This is a show about a family, but it is by no means a family show.
The show delights in playing with genre tropes and extrapolating to the darkest, most disturbing conclusion. Someone described it as a darker version of Futurama, and that's not far off, actually! It also has a bit of Doctor Who in its DNA, although in retrospect I am surprised that there weren't more direct references. Rick and Morty travel to different planets and dimensions, and Roiland and Harmon revel in being absurd and scatological but also very clever in how they approach these well-worn elements. Expect things to go wrong and people to die because that forces the writers to truly examine the consequences of these things we take for granted. But while they're having fun with these stand-alone adventures, Roiland and Harmon are also building a universe with continuity and telling a larger story on a pretty epic scale.
And yet they are also telling a smaller story on a more intimate scale. Because for how completely out there this show is, it's surprisingly grounded when it comes to its character relationships. Sure, they are placed in some fucked up situations, but the interactions ring true. Beth and Jerry must take a look at their shitty marriage. Beth wants to have a closer relationship with her father. Rick is an asshole to Morty (and, uh, everyone) but maybe secretly has a heart. Morty enjoys going on adventures with his grandfather but that doesn't mean Rick gets a free pass to be an asshole. Summer is discovering how she fits into this weird-ass family.
Rick and Morty isn't for everyone, for sure. You've got to roll with its brand of sophomoric humor and freewheeling plotting. But it's a lot of fun, and it's smarter than it seems. Also there is a character called Mr. Poopy Butthole.
Current Mood: pessimistic
Current Music: Maggie Rogers - Alaska
April 9th, 2017
|11:16 am - Fargo? More Like Fargo Fuck Yourself!|
I am a fan of the Coen Brothers' films, including Fargo, and I had heard many good things about Fargo the TV Show, but it wasn't until watching Legion that I decided I need to see more of Noah Hawley's work because he is making some incredibly daring television.
Fargo, like American Horror Story, is an anthology series, so each season tells a self-contained story, though there are some connections and they definitely take place in the same universe (in the same universe as the film, even). One could review each miniseries as its own show; hell, each miniseries could be its own show. There is enough story and character to sustain a multiseason arc and yet by telling it all in ten episodes, Hawley creates a huge sense of urgency and ends up with a more powerful narrative experience.
Season 1 is my favorite of the two so far. In some ways, it is a cheeky remix of the original film, but it is very much its own clever beast. The first episode packs several episodes' worth of plot into one in order to do what seems to be Hawley's MO: set up a status quo that appears to be a story seed and then blow it up to tell a much more interesting story. By the end of the pilot, Hawley establishes the clear Good Guys (the cops) and the Bad Guys (the criminals), and the entire season is a complex game of cat-and-mouse where we both want the Bad Guys to be caught but we are also impressed with their cleverness and resourcefulness. It makes bold, potentially disastrous choices, but by the end Hawley has earned your trust in him as a storyteller. Again, because it's a single season, he has an end in sight and he knows how to get there.
Season 2 expands the scope and has a different vibe, thanks to the period setting. Whereas the first season felt more personal and intimate, the second season introduces warring crime organizations, and it pumps up the violence. Once again, it's still clearly cops vs. criminals, but this time, there's somewhat more depth to the criminals, even if there are way more of them, which means that they don't get to be as fully developed and shine nearly as brightly as the two standouts in the first season. It's a bit better on the non-white and female characters, though; two of the best characters are POC and unlike in the first season where nearly every female character with a couple notable exceptions was a twit, nearly every female character here is fleshed out and compelling. 0This season also makes bold, potentially disastrous choices that don't completely work; an increase in the number of stylistic flourishes signals Hawley's evolution on his way to Legion, where he can be as self-indulgent as he wants. But yet again, the man knows how to construct a story, as the payoff is worthy of the setup.
So what unites these two seasons of Fargo? The show certainly takes its setting and tonal cues from the film and the Coens in general. It's a black comedy, mixing both darkness and decency, and the anthology format means that you can't be ensured of the safety of (almost) any character. It's marked by explosive, sometimes quirky violence, which can often occur when civilians find themselves in sticky situations and discover that they may not be as good a person as they think they are. It believes in a universe ruled by cosmic forces of justice that do not necessarily care about what's fair but do care that human morality is what we make of it. Good and bad are not what we are but the choices we make. And the choices we make will always have consequences. The show also believes strongly in family and the power of genuine decency and human kindness. It adores its characters, who are all incredibly well acted by fantastic actors. On top of all the excellent writing, the show looks and sounds great, with smart musical choices and bravura directing. The use of titles and end credits makes each episode feel like a cinematic experience in your own home.
I am absolutely on the Noah Hawley train now. You've got another great season of Fargo in you? Okay then.
Current Mood: hungry
Current Music: Perturbator - Humans Are Such Easy Prey
March 21st, 2017
|11:12 pm - The Good Place? More Like The Food Race!|
The Good Place begins with a woman named Eleanor Shellstrop being introduced to The Good Place, the heavenly afterlife that is her eternal reward after a lifetime of good deeds. There is frozen yogurt everywhere, her house is designed specifically to her tastes, and everything is wonderful.
Except that the Eleanor Shellstrop who did all those good deeds...is not her. This woman was not a very good person at all. She does not belong here. This is the first surprise Michael Schur throws at us, and it is far from the last.
On the surface, The Good Place looks like a silly sitcom about a bad person trying to act good so she doesn't get kicked out of heaven. And some showrunners would be happy making that show, but this show is much, much smarter. Which is not to say it isn't also deeply silly—so much of the humor and fun comes from the ludicrous conception of The Good Place and the absurd goodness of all the other residents, especially in comparison to Eleanor. It's a comedy with a great deal of worldbuilding, and almost every single episode reveals some new aspect of this creative cosmology. A point system here, a strange rule there. Luckily, Michael, the architect of The Good Place, is here to explain how the world works, as is Janet, the delightful helper A.I. who can also magick you some clothes because, hey, this is paradise! A paradise now tainted by the presence of Eleanor Shellstrop. How long can she remain undetected?
It's high-concept as hell, but Schur and his diverse team of writers are up to the task, managing to take a fantasy comedy and use it to explore philosophical and ethical conundrums every week, examining the very nature of morality and introducing the layperson to terms like "consequentialism." It contains the funniest joke about Aristotle on network television or any television, and also someone gets killed by an air conditioner. That's just the kind of show this is, and it wouldn't work if the characters pondering what makes a person good or bad—and why someone would deserve to be in The Good Place versus The Bad Place—weren't so damn endearing.
Eleanor consistently shows herself to be kind of a shitty person. Not an evil person, just a shitty one. But Kristen Bell makes you like her anyway, and sells both "Eleanor is trying to be good" and "Eleanor is trying to be good but hoo boy" equally well. Her soulmate/ethics tutor Chidi is a bundle of neuroses I can relate to; he and Eleanor make a wonderful odd couple. William Jackson Harper is a gift, taking the art of exasperated and/or confused reaction to new heights. Tahani initially seems like a cloying, condescending bench (sorry, you can't curse in The Good Place), but Jameela Jamil finds that perfect balance between UGH and AWW. Her soulmate/Buddhist monk Jianyu has taken a vow of silence, but Manny Jacinto still shines. I will pretty much love any A.I. character, but D'Arcy Carden as Janet is comic gold every time she's on screen, her perky, straightforward delivery nailing the joke every time. Finally—notably the only white man in the main cast—Ted Danson is utterly charming as Michael, who of course has no idea he's got a rogue in his perfect construction, and as much as you don't want Eleanor to be found out, you also don't want Michael to be sad. It's a fantastic cast from top to bottom, all the more impressive given that most of them apart from Bell and Danson are relatively unknown.
The Good Place starts out strong and gets better with each episode, and by episode five or six, it's firing on all cylinders, really finding its groove. It's a serialized tale with a clear story to tell, and it's extremely binge-able thanks to its constant cliffhangers. Seriously, a show should not be allowed to surprise you this many times in one forking season. In thirteen episodes, you witness six major character arcs that culminate in a finale that's easily one of the best of all time, a brilliant conclusion to an intricately constructed narrative. I was on a Great Television High for hours afterward, I was so impressed. What an incredibly clever, smart, thought-provoking, funny, heartwarming, fucked-up season of television.
Current Mood: impressed
Current Music: Hybrid - Every Word