Lunchtable TV Talk: How to Get Away with Murder is Damages

Standard

As I tuned in for the much-anticipated start to the sophomore season of How to Get Away with Murder, hot on the heels of a deserved Viola Davis Emmy win, I was struck by how a lot of TV is about placement and timing. See, How to Get Away with Murder is basically Damages with much more diverse cast and much better promotion.

Damages had a worthy rival to HtGAwM’s Annalise Keating in a strong, ruthless and tightly wound Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. Both women are conniving, bright, cutthroat and lethal in their own often twisted pursuit of their own definitions of justice. Both have done insane and questionable things. And most of all, both women have very little control over – and are practically unhinged in – their personal lives. It’s in their personal lives that things come apart. The story comes from those cracks in the power-hungry, driven veneer they project. And both stories are compelling and revealed key pieces of information in fragments, so you might think you knew – sort of – what was going to happen later in the season based on glimpses of things you had seen earlier – but not until the final episode would the entire story have unfolded.

The difference… Damages got short shrift, at least from viewers. Damages was intense and critically praised, but never found an audience. It was technically cancelled, in fact, after FX decided to get rid of it after three poorly performing seasons. It was given a two-season reprieve via a deal with DirecTV (which also revived the loved and lauded Friday Night Lights after NBC wanted to cut it short). With the way it moved around, it certainly never found its footing, and was gone too soon despite stellar casting and tight stories for all five of its seasons. In addition to the formidable Glenn Close, Damages featured Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant (the one and only from both Deadwood and Justified), David Costabile (increasingly visible all the time in all manner of shows, from Flight of the Conchords to Breaking Bad, from Suits to the rather irritating and cancelled Dig, from Ripper Street to Low Winter Sun), Janet McTeer (love her and sad her recent show, Battle Creek, was cancelled so soon), Ted Danson, Lily Tomlin, John Goodman, William Hurt, the ubiquitous
Željko Ivanek, Ryan Phillippe and the leader of the John Hannah School of English Elocution, John Hannah.

When I binge-watched the compelling first seasons of HtGAwM, it felt familiar in many ways because it covered a lot of the ground Damages had already tread. It was still fresh because it has its own story and feel, but it made me feel regret that Damages was so little seen during its original broadcast (hopefully people are picking it up on Netflix). None of this takes anything away from the magnetic nature of How to Get Away with Murder, but instead, it’s worth stating that if you like it, maybe you will also like Damages.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Black Mirror

Standard

It was not that long ago that I finally got wrapped up in the existing episodes of the genius, twisty, unsettling Black Mirror. And then it was announced that it would be back as a Netflix production. I won’t ramble about what made Black Mirror genius – it entertained at the same time as being terrifying, thinking about how we’re probably only a step away from the kinds of invasive technology that disrupted, destroyed and in many case ruined the characters’ lives in the effectively standalone vignettes presented in the few episodes that exist. All the “conveniences” that we embrace without thinking how they expose us and monitor us 24/7, not at all unlike the cautionary tale of all cautionary tales that is 1984. But in a world where people volunteer to put every minute detail of their lives on (reality) TV in the name of some kind of misguided fame, can I be surprised?

The other thing that surprised me was learning that Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror’s creator/writer, also co-wrote the Sky1 police-drama spoof, A Touch of Cloth, starring the dazzlingly clear-spoken Scot John Hannah, actor and would-be proprietor of the John Hannah School of English. Who would have guessed?

Lunchtable TV Talk: A Touch of Cloth – The John Hannah School of English

Standard

Firewall and I have created the imaginary John Hannah School of English to acknowledge Hannah’s brand of exaggerated, overenunciated English as spoken by a Scot – that’s John Hannah! I love it. We love when his voice suddenly comes on in a voiceover. In this show, the voice is matched only by the determined (but intentionally overacted) intensity on Hannah’s face.

In much the same way that Hannah’s way of speaking is a kind of parody of actual English, A Touch of Cloth spoofs procedural police dramas. Virtually every action, every word they say is an inside joke, a reference (“You’re nicked.”) to something else (often within the same genre) or over-the-top parody of the Law & Orders (and other shows like it) that have long saturated the airwaves.

Also, the boss, Tom Boss (of course), looked familiar – finally I realized he is one of the prisoners in the Australian show, Banished.

But what else is there to say except to concede perhaps that the cop investigation and justice system procedural has gone too far, if something like this show is possible? (Indeed, in interviews, Hannah has said as much. He asked his agent to stop sending him cop procedural scripts but changed his mind when he got the Touch of Cloth script. Why wouldn’t he, considering that it blows up the whole genre and laughs at it?)

What is fresh and refreshing about the show is that you could watch it a few times over and catch new things each time. In the first episode, for example, Hannah’s character, DI Jack Cloth, gets irrationally angry and violent (a la Elliot Stabler in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) in the interrogation room with a potential suspect – to the point that even he admits in a worked-up frenzy that he doesn’t know what he is doing. Afterwards, he realizes that the suspect is probably innocent, but his boss forces him to arrest the guy anyway. Cloth goes to the local pub, where his partner (Anne Oldman, pronounced repeatedly as “an old man”) meets him; he complains, “Yeah I always come here when we lock up and innocent man, helps me forget everything.” His partner: “You in here a lot then?” Cloth: “Have no idea.” And the bartender hands Cloth Cloth’s mail. Haha. Then the female partner gets a phone call, and her ring tone is kd lang’s “Constant Craving” – as if to beat us over the head with the “lesbian cop” trope. Here I don’t really mind because that’s the point, right? Every single minute of this show is something equally as ridiculous. If it weren’t quite this ridiculous, it might be offensive. But when it doesn’t hit, it seems stupid but innocuous, and when it does, it’s quite funny – in the same vein of, for example, Airplane!.