Lunchtable TV Talk: Roadies

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I had no real intention of watching Roadies, and then I saw that Robyn Hitchcock would appear in an episode sooner or later. Naturally I had to watch. But how painful these hours have been. There is nothing- absolutely nothing – redeeming about this show. It drags along slowly. There is no story. It is supposed to evoke some reverence for music and life on the road and its gritty romance (it’s actually rough but, you know, you’re supposed to die and live in filth and give up your life to devote yourself to the band you love. It’s all about the music).

Somewhere along the line, while torturing myself with this dud, I saw a review someone had written; it hit the nail on the head:

All three episodes of Roadies feel, astonishingly, like they were written by someone who has never been connected to music or real people. No matter how many hip band shirts you toss on these characters or how many references there are to The Replacements or Pearl Jam, it feels inauthentic — like actual roadies would never live this life. “How is this a Cameron Crowe series?” is a question that kept popping up with alarming frequency.

I’d extend the “written by someone who has never been connected to music or real people” to the entire series (we’re still only at episode six at the time of writing). There is a real element of pretension trying too hard not to be pretentious here. There are some truly obnoxious characters here. And sadly it’s because of the writing and the meandering “story” that tries to make everything seem life-or-death important. But nothing about this is important.

Other recent shows that try to capture the ineffable magnetism of music and the people who make it happen (e.g., Vinyl, also a colossal failure, already canceled, despite a great cast and a few good moments) and that try to (comedically) look at the middle-aged has-been/comeback hopefuls who try to regain relevance (e.g., Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll, which degenerates into a lot of cliches but also is redeemed by Denis Leary’s humor).

Now I just wish I had the presence of mind and willpower to stop watching Roadies … because there is nothing for me here, and as John Mellencamp reminds us in episode 6, life is short, even in its longest days. It’s pathetic because it is not horrendous enough to be a passionate hate-watch; it’s sad because it’s just so fucking boring.

Lunchtable TV Talk: House – King of Misanthropes

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House is one of those shows with an egotistical, maniacal, damaged “genius” with special skills at the helm. It never interested me much, despite being a Hugh Laurie fan, as medical mystery procedurals don’t generally keep delivering punches after one season. They hold our interest when they are new because we like novelty – we like curmudgeonly assholes or mental cases (and I do recognize that lumping people into a superficial group like “mental cases” is insensitive and a massive and unfair generalization). There is only so much we can take of assholes, racists, addicts on TV… from Archie Bunker to Adrian Monk, from Hank Moody to almost all characters Denis Leary plays on TV. Dr Gregory House is one of the biggest of all TV jerks, and completely self-involved, self-destructive and does not care how he hurts – or how much – the people in his life. That common thread runs, to varying degrees, through all these “lovable” (or not so lovable) jerks.

I realize it is a bit late to be writing about a show like House. It’s old – it ended ages ago. I was surprised when I watched the first season to see that it was more than a decade old already. I got sucked into House recently after a long, self-imposed foreign-film festival on the homestead. I just wanted some English-language entertainment to occupy my mind only halfway. What struck me first is: how on earth do we, with our short attention spans, manage to follow or care about serialized television shows that go on for 22 or 24 episodes per season? Particularly with these kinds of shows, they run out of steam fairly quickly and become predictable (even in their lack of unpredictability). It still remained mildly entertaining, but when you’re bingeing all eight seasons at once, all 176 plus or minus, it wears out its welcome really fast. I recently read an article in which a TV critic argues that binge watching enables a show to be created expressly for the binge in mind, which means we are less likely to pick out its flaws. This applies mostly to shows created for streaming that go for a max of about 13 episodes. I agree to some extent – nothing’s perfect, whether it’s too long, too short, or skimps on process that adds to plot. These things are designed to stream and ingest all in one go. But these longer shows that get churned out season after season feel churned out. A great slog through mostly mud before occasionally hitting a few smoother streams.

Second thing that struck me, of course, as I am sensitively attuned to these things, and which is not at all a surprise: addicts possess nothing but meanness, diffuse blame and spew denial and insult whenever they can. But House is not the best portrayal of how addiction works. It occasionally illustrates (although more with unrealistic storylines and hammer-over-the-head consequences for the people House works with – his “friends”) the bad parts of addiction. House is openly an addict, and the people around him openly enable it. It is a lot more interesting and realistic to see addiction (particularly in a healthcare setting) in Nurse Jackie. (You can incidentally get a lot better and more intimate view on the work lives of nurses from Nurse Jackie and Getting On than medical shows like House, which have nothing to do with nurses, in any case.) Addiction really only comes into stark focus as season five ends and season six begins, and House goes to rehab. I suppose the “party” could not go on forever.

Third note: I think I kept watching throughout because I like the cast. And for most of the cast, I like them in these roles. I have not really liked Jennifer Morrison in much other than in her role as Dr Cameron. I really have a growing hatred for Lisa Edelstein after suffering (forcing myself to suffer, really) through each week’s increasingly horrifying episode of Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, but seeing her in House makes her look strong, intelligent, thoughtful, insightful. Girlfriends Guide strips away every last bit of the humanity and compassion that Edelstein cultivated in House. I realize the point of acting is to… act, but the characters in GG2D are so distasteful that I can’t see why someone would want to stretch their “acting chops” to stoop so low. Robert Sean Leonard is a reliably good foil, friend and enabler for Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, and Omar Epps has carved out a career of being a doctor on TV.

While there are only so many scenes of close-ups of House’s brooding, thoughtful scowl a person can take, I appreciated the opening episode of House, wherein, as an introduction to his misanthropy, in which he explains to a patient who exclaims, after being probed, prodded and tested that she just wants to “die with dignity”:

“There’s no such thing! Our bodies break down, sometimes when we’re 90, sometimes before we’re even born, but it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it. I don’t care if you can walk, see, wipe your own ass. It’s always ugly, always….You can live with dignity, we can’t die with it.”

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Code – You are only coming through in waves

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Watching TV and films is often like riding a wave. One show or film appears, and you are carried along to the next, even if by seemingly random choice, and somehow there are always connections. Many connections between the shows, many connections to other things I have watched, whether its the appearance of various actors popping up or thematic links.

The other night in sleeplessness, I stumbled on the six-part Australian TV show The Code… I’m hit immediately by recognizable visual cues. First, the appearance of Aden Young. This is the only other place I have seen Aden Young, apart from his leading role in the underwatched Rectify. I have often wondered how he acts in other things. As the startlingly weird Daniel Holden, it is hard to imagine him in any other way. I keep expecting his actual Australian accent to come out slower and more southern, like Holden’s unmistakably deliberate drawl.

Next, I stared and stared at the actor who plays the mentally unstable hacker brother, certain that I know him from somewhere. He very vaguely reminded me of the dude who was George in Grey’s Anatomy but I KNEW it was not him. But then it hit me – Manhattan! Yes, Manhattan, which will be back soon for its second season (which ties in like a gentle wave with my recent viewing of the Norwegian production, Kampen om tungtvannet, or The Saboteurs – both deal with the race toward building a nuclear bomb).

Figures that I would accidentally select something Australian immediately after seeing the Australian film Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska. It made me think of things I had not considered in years, such as reading one of Bruce Chatwin’s final books, The Songlines, during university. Without knowing of his appearance beforehand, there in the Australian Outback as an American National Geographic photographer is Adam Driver, from Girls.

And just the night before, I had seen Driver in While We’re Young, which is the latest output from Noah Baumbach. Fine-tuned Baumbach is great. Some of his stuff can be pretentious – not bad, per se, but makes you wonder what for. Nothing quite so true in that department than his widely praised The Squid and The Whale, which I had not thought of in years. I liked it but it’s definitely a “type” of movie. But I mention it now more because of this continuing wave of connection. The film was mentioned in Thursday’s episode of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, when Denis Leary’s character confuses the story of Jonah and the whale with The Squid and The Whale, which is exactly the kind of thing he’d take the piss out of (and does).

In many ways, The Code was a microcosm of the point I am trying to make – lots of disconnected threads eventually cross. The story in The Code is actually three separate threads of the same story. They cross but do not quite interweave until all the threads come together. This is a lot like what television (and film) are like – a small world full of people who inhabit many imaginary worlds. We the viewers piece them all together each time.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

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On the surface, I don’t think Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll would appeal much to me. But then, when have I limited my TV viewing to things that appeal to me?

The show is ostensibly about trying to keep the washed-up drug addict former lead singer of a band called The Heathens (Denis Leary) off drugs long enough to write a few new songs. It turns out he has a daughter he never knew about, and she turns up with money and the intention of putting the band back together – with her as the lead singer. Leary created the show, and more than anything, it showcases his fast-paced, smart-ass, sharp humor better than anything I’ve seen him do lately.

Leary as Johnny Rock: “Bowie had this haircut in 1973, this is an iconic look.”

John Corbett, as Flash, one of Johnny Rock’s old bandmates: “Bowie’s been drug-free since 78.”

Johnny: “Talent-free, too, bro. Let’s dance… let’s not, David….”

Johnny: “Name one great band or rock star that doesn’t get high.”

Rehab, former bandmate: “Coldplay.*”

Johnny’s daughter, Gigi: “Morrissey.”

Bam Bam, another former bandmate: “Radiohead.”

Johnny: “I rest my case. Every time I hear a Radiohead song, I feel like I’m failing the SATs all over again.”

This coupled with a few zingers about Pat Benatar and her husband, Mr. Pat Benatar had me chuckling through the first two episodes. Sadly that’s all that’s been broadcast so far.

Of note, the band manager, Ira, is the actor Josh Pais… who is one of those unafraid to be non-descript guys who shows up everywhere. He is the quietest, pent up and most unassuming dentist in the indie film Touchy Feely but then is this angry, volatile, perv, Stu Feldman, in Ray Donovan. I love actors who blend in but deliver wildly and widely varied performances, and Pais is great at this even if he is upstaged here by Denis Leary and John Corbett. He may always be upstaged because he blends in well and does exactly what his character is there to do.

Overall, it may be that you have to have a soft spot for Denis Leary to like this in the first place, but I suppose I qualify even if I have no fondness for the kind of selfish, ne’er-do-well character he represents.

*I would argue that Coldplay is NOT a great band, whatever their reach and popularity. Agree there with Leary’s resting the case.