Lunchtable TV talk: Pure and simple every time… or not

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An article about television recommendations gave a show called Pure its blessing. All I remembered about the description was that a character starts having wildly inappropriate (sexual?) thoughts; possibly something about a brain tumor. I noted the title and forgot about it.

Imagine my surprise then when the time came to start to watching Pure, and I was greeted by Mennonites driving buggies and speaking their own language (I was not expecting a partly subtitled show when my viewing began). It’s a Canadian production, and feels like it – as most Canadian shows do. Same sort of production values, same Canadian extras as usual. I can’t explain what makes a Canadian show Canadian (beyond just the abundance of Canadian vowels and pronunciation). This was not the Pure I was expecting.

I can’t say, having watched two brief seasons of the Canadian Pure, that it’s worth recommending. It’s kind of a different story from what television usually offers, but it feels as though it has missed an opportunity to tell a deeper story. I noticed the same recently in another Canadian show, Mary Kills People, in which a doctor helps terminally ill patients to end their lives. The premise held considerable promise for being able to tackle a challenging topic, but only ever touched briefly on the meatier moral issue, focusing almost entirely on the “the law and the outlaws both have you in their clutches” aspect of illegal assisted suicide. Never mind that assisted suicide has been legal in Canada since 2016, and Mary didn’t even begin until 2017.

Where Pure seems to miss a turn is in having too little time to dig into characters and the path the community’s new pastor follows that leads him to becoming a police informant, as drug trafficking has taken hold in his community. The story unfolded in a too-rushed way that made motivations feel forced and didn’t let all of the actions make sense.

In years past, Banshee had a take on the Amish/Mennonite criminal connection/drug trafficking underworld and the “outcasts” from this world. Even though it was not the central theme of Banshee, it rivaled what Pure managed in two seasons that almost completely focused on the community. The second season seems a bit better paced, and no one can argue with the addition of Christopher Heyerdahl to anything. But overall, perhaps the problem is twofold: Canadians have not yet mastered a six-episode storytelling pace (Brits seem best able to do this); both Mary Kills and Pure suffer from this; secondly, the only time we’d get to see Mennonite (or Amish)-related stories (think back to 1985’s Witness, for example) is when outsiders are involved, which would only likely be an insidious infestation by a criminal element. It’s an insular world, after all.

Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Lunchtable TV talk: The reluctant hit – Mr Inbetween, Barry, Killing Eve & Mary Kills People

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My ambivalent relationship with televisual entertainment has led me into a patternof overdose, give up cold turkey, and then find some middle-ground, rationing my TV intake. In recent months, however, we’ve all mostly been stuck at home (not that this is anything new for me), I’ve fallen back into my multi-tasking, tv-viewing patterns of yesteryear.

These patterns aren’t terrible, but at some point I’m taking such an overload of information in, I don’t always absorb finer details of what I am watching. The constant stream makes me forget where I saw or heard something – which streaming platform, which character said what, what show was it? Unless I make notes while watching, which I don’t normally do because I am busily doing something else simultaneously, I can’t remember where anything came from and am already on to the next thing, diving into the endless flow of available content.

I preface my brief discussion on the unusual Australian dark comedy, Mr Inbetween, in this way because I want to explain that most things I watch do not affect me deeply. I don’t find myself reflecting on them a lot after watching them. But a couple of weeks after bingeing the two seasons of Mr Inbetween, I am still thinking about it.

When I stumbled on it, I didn’t know what it was – and didn’t know what to expect. Was it meant to be funny, serious? Turns out it was very much… both of these things. Other articles have pointed out the abundance of “hitman”-related shows currently in production – from the offbeat Barry to the histrionic and, frankly, annoying Killing Eve.

“There are two immediate touch points elsewhere on your dial in Barry and Killing Eve, but Mr Inbetween is neither of those. The ethical axis in HBO’s Barry finds its equilibrium too easily, and in Barry an anti-hero too much in need of redemption, while Killing Eve spirals into its own emotional cyclone too quickly, playing fast and hard notes in a way that is thrilling but also dizzying.”

Shows like Fargo also have their share of hit-for-hire ‘workers’. And just this week I discovered a Canadian show called Mary Kills People, which I knew was about a doctor illegally helping terminally ill patients to die with assisted suicide. On the surface, Mary isn’t about hitmen, but its content turned out to be cat-and-mouse attempts to outsmart the police, morally ambiguous “hitman” allusions and a main character who is completely neglectful of her children. The poignance and humanity of euthanasia is almost entirely missing here (you’d be better off watching Louis Theroux‘s Altered States… and its coverage of people who choose death).

This, though, is yet another reason why Mr Inbetween is so extraordinary. Presenting extended moments of subdued comedy mixed deftly with matter-of-fact but emotionally wrenching moments (in particular, a season two moment in which the lead, Ray, assists in a suicide – quite a contrast to Ray’s detached approach to killing people professionally). The “inbetween” is what happens all the rest of the time (“Save for the moments that most people would do anything to avoid, life is pretty slow and uninteresting and undramatic and uninspiring.” –Jonathan Safran Foer, Here I Am).