Lunchtable TV Talk: King & Maxwell – Chasing the beaver

Standard

The first episode of the defunct show, King & Maxwell, started with a car chase. If I recall, Rebecca Romijn‘s character was chasing someone dressed in a beaver costume. The silly opener was followed by what was singularly one of the most boring hours of television I’ve ever seen. Note to all: just starting something off with a car chase is still not enough to make people want to continue watching.

Perhaps its boredom-inducing spell became a kind of aphrodisiac, sending viewers subliminal messages screaming silently, “There is nothing else to do but turn to sex! Save yourself the misery of continuing to watch!” Yes, randy gents the world over, if you want to get your girl in bed – indulge in this inaugural boring episode of King & Maxwell, one of TV’s least interesting offerings. She will not be able to resist.

Me being the glutton for visual and virtual punishment that I am, though, I gave the show another go. Yes, I put myself through that. Oddly enough, though the first episode started up slowly, the next episodes were a lot more entertaining. The playful repartee between the two titular leads, King and Maxwell, played respectively by Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn, leads the show, and perhaps if it had been given a bit more opportunity to get off the ground, it might have gained an audience. I don’t know. It was a fairly standard PI procedural, so nothing groundbreaking. Plenty of deserving shows never make it past a first season. I question all the time, for example, how something vanilla-average, like the Debra Messing vehicle, The Mysteries of Laura, gets renewed for a second season, while something with a lot more personality and promise, like Battle Creek, gets the shaft. You tell me.

It was a bit harder to discern, but I think King & Maxwell may have had some promise. The aforementioned sarcastic spark between Tenney and Romijn and the unusual character played by Ryan Hurst (also seen in unique roles in Sons of Anarchy and Bates Motel) sometimes transcended the limitations of the show’s decidedly limited walls.

Suddenly Kevin Rahm

Standard

I had seen him in other places like Judging Amy and Desperate Housewives (neither being shows I actually watched), so Kevin Rahm never registered with me. But now he is everywhere. He has been Mad Men’s (newly moustachioed) Ted Chaough, Bates Motel’s bad guy Bob Paris and Madam Secretary’s somewhat mad external strategist, Mike B. It is Rahm’s moment.

His simultaneous ubiquity put him on my TV obsessed radar, but I do wonder what his future holds. He is sort of an everyman, can even appear a bit on the milquetoast side. Either he can play this everyman everywhere or he can be more of a secret weapon – displaying the ability to blend in like an everyman before unleashing some craziness and villainy on unsuspecting viewers.

TV: The understated villain

Standard

Does anyone remember the TV sitcom Dear John? Newly divorced John Lacey (Judd Hirsch, appearing these days in Forever) joins a support group, which is full of its own oddball characters. But the most memorable character is the slimy, would-be “ladies man” “Kirk” played by Jere Burns. Back then, who would have thought that Burns would show up just about everywhere as shady, menacing villains who appear so unassuming that they just slip under the radar? In the last decade, Burns has turned up in these kinds of roles so many times I can’t count. When I caught his turn in Bates Motel, I had to think, of course, of his long-running role in Justified playing exactly the same kind of criminal and his equally surreptitious bad guy role in Burn Notice. (He has also turned up in roles, such as in Breaking Bad, as Jesse’s rehab group leader, but these roles are not the ones in which Burns shines.)

I love this guy.

Lunchtable TV Talk – Bates Motel

Standard

At first I avoided Bates Motel – for no real reason. I had no expectations going in, and I did not realize until I started watching that the formidable Vera Farmiga is one of the main players. This makes Bates Motel automatically worth at least trying out. Then realizing that Nestor Carbonell is the town sheriff seals the deal.

While I could spread on thick layers of superlatives about Farmiga’s range and talent, I would rather write a brief love letter to Carbonell. I love how he pops up frequently and, of course, is very different in each role – as quality acting requires. Whether he is hero, villain or somewhere in between (as is the case in Bates Motel), he delivers. But what I love about him most of all is looking back on his comedic role in the gone and mostly forgotten Suddenly Susan in the 1990s. A starring vehicle for Brooke Shields (and also starring Judd Nelson and Kathy Griffin), the show was usually stolen out from under Shields and the rest of the cast by Carbonell as Luis Rivera and the late David Strickland as Todd Stities. Together, this duo stole many scenes and kept me watching even when the show was annoying (and believe me – it grew increasingly so). (Interestingly the show also humanized Shields a bit for me – and I had never really cared much for her work before.)

Sadly, Strickland committed suicide at the age of 29 in 1999 (RIP) – but Carbonell, happily, was just getting started. He has turned up everywhere – both in one-time guest roles in popular TV shows and in longer-term appearances, such as a role in one-time network ratings juggernaut, Lost.

With Farmiga and Carbonell at the helm, Bates Motel really seems to work and stand out. Even the sometimes overly dramatic tone and plot are deftly managed in these actors’ hands. Many of the other actors are all right – kind of a go-to list of every non-descript Canadian actor who turns up in every Canadian or Canadian-produced show (for example, Ian Tracey as “Remo” – I stared at him for ages before realizing he was one of the stars of the Canadian legal drama Da Vinci’s Inquest – something that was never shown any time that I lived in the US but did turn up on late-night TV in Iceland). While the actor who plays Norman Bates, Freddie Highmore, should attract more accolades, there are times that his character’s awkwardness and mental illness feels a bit too ham-handed and overacted, making me think that while the part is well-cast, there is a bit too much “putting it on” that does not feel authentic. Highmore manages to balance innocent, sheltered, overprotected son with increasingly unstable, mentally ill “psycho” quite well – he is fantastic at “creepy” – but nevertheless isn’t really the star of the show.

Without the main cast working well together, though, the show would not be nearly as addictive as it is (and it has been addictive). Once I started the first season of ten episodes two days ago, I could not stop and am already caught up (we’re nearing the end of season three).