lunchtable TV talk: this kind of nerd

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Many times, I have claimed that I have ‘given up’ television, and compared to what I used to inhale (night and day viewing, really), I have. I also don’t write obsessively about my thoughts on tv shows I do watch, so it looks like I’m following my own rules.

Yet, if I were to talk to almost anyone else I know, I still watch much more tv (however carefully selected it is now) than most people I know. I recently finished by the heartbreaking but often very funny, and always timely, Hap and Leonard (set in the 80s, yet with timeless and important themes, woven so tightly into the narrative that they never come across as “Important Themes”, such as those you’d see on “very special episodes of…”). It is also one of those shows that gets better with each season, which is one reason why I am pulling for renewal. (As the most recent season ends, there is no word on whether it will come back. But it really deserves to.)

I can’t really say enough about Hap and Leonard and the performances of its two leads, James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams. Both are actors I like anyway, but the humanity and depth of friendship/love for each other that they breathe into these characters puts both of them – and the show – over the top for me. I think it’s a shame that more people haven’t heard of the show. I suspect this may have something to do it with its being on the very quiet Sundance network, where many brilliant shows live quiet, critically acclaimed but often little-seen lives. This was certainly true of Rectify. Despite very few people seeing Rectify when it was on, Sundance let it continue to live – and I hope the same will be true for Hap and Leonard.

In Hap and Leonard, I also enjoy small nods to things in the show that may or may not be intentional, e.g. the sheriff in the racist town portrayed in the latest season is played by Corbin Bernsen, and as Hap and Leonard are driving through town while businesses are boarding up in anticipation of a big storm, the town cinema reader board displays the film Major League as what’s playing. If you don’t know or remember, Bernsen played a vain, aging, jack-ass baseball player in Major League (more similar to his role in LA Law than anything he has done in his later years).

Having sung the praises of Hap and Leonard and told everyone I can about it, I should also sing the praises of an Italian series, 1992 and 1993. Today I tried to moved on to watch 1993, an Italian drama that follows, logically, 1992. When I watched 1992 several years ago, I loved the storytelling and nods to that period in time (and learned a bit more about what was happening in Italy at the time). I have commented before that I am not entirely sure that there were *so many* Italians into the kinds of music that made up the 1992 soundtrack, but I can forgive that. What struck me is how the main character, an ad exec, Notte, whose savvy and forward-looking ability to see trends, leads him to politics and a bold, seemingly out-of-left-field prediction that someone like Silvio Berlusconi had a viable political future, something most others around him do not agree with. In my favorite part of the series, the Notte caused everyone around him to laugh, poking fun at his naivete in thinking that someone as ludicrous as Berlusconi could ever be a politician. One character, if I recall, argues something, through condescending laughter, like, ‘That would be like Schwarzenegger trying to be a politician.’ We all know now, of course, that both Berlusconi and Schwarzenegger went on to have dubiously successful political careers. But now, in the post-Trump era, the warnings about grotesque media figures like Berlusconi becoming politicians, and no one caring about the scandals, wrongdoing, corruption and rumors swirling around them, feel even more prescient and … sad.

I still didn’t get around to watching 1993, as it happens. I didn’t have time to pay as close attention as I would have needed to, so I turned instead to Westworld, which I tried to watch when it was new but couldn’t get into. Sometimes it just takes time, and I have managed to dive in. I don’t have anything particular to say about it because it’s not something that needs more attention or my amateurish praise. It’s far more important that less visible gems like Hap and Leonard get a polish and the chance to shine.

 

Lunchtable TV Talk: Hap and Leonard

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There is not much that Michael K. Williams does that I don’t want to see. The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, The Night Of and so many more things, he makes things watchable. Where they go beyond him can vary. I am not sure I like Hap and Leonard that much, but the strangely compelling friendship between Williams as Leonard, a black, gay Vietnam vet with temper problems, and James Purefoy as Hap, a man who has spent time in prison for dodging the draft, drives the story forward.

On paper the pairing between these actors seems unusual and not at all like it would work. But it does. In episode two, when Hap tries to hug Leonard, and it’s ridiculously awkward, Leonard exclaims, “Come on, man. This is why dudes don’t hug each other.” There is something so genuine about the way Hap and Leonard try to take care of each other and care about each other that is, well, why the show is called “Hap and Leonard”. (Incidentally I also really like Purefoy with the exception of the monumental joke that was The Following, one of my all-time most hateful of hate-watch shows.)

This isn’t really a long or extensive description and certainly isn’t an analysis of any kind. It’s just to say that, thanks to Williams and Purefoy, the show is actually worth watching.

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Affair and Ballers

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Sometimes inspiration for writing about the TV I love does not come easily. Sometimes, for some shows, no inspiration comes at all. There’s no way to know what will hit the spot and what won’t. For example, there are many shows I watch(ed), love(d) and would recommend, but unless I think of some particular angle that I feel I want to express, I will never bother to write specifically about them.

Mad Men is one of those shows. It was analyzed, torn apart, beloved, criticized and everything else you can do to a TV show from the comfort of your couch (by professionals and amateurs alike). I don’t have anything to add to that discussion, apart from noting how Don Draper seemed to be something like a drunken traveling handyman there near the end. (And I was able to note the semi-subtle red Coca-Cola thread sewing the final season together, but I only did that in order to compare and contrast it to another already-dead series about ad men, HAPPYish, which also got into the ring with the Coca-Cola theme.)

There are others. It might not be that they were revered and torn limb from limb and sucked dry of all their marrow. It might just be that I would not know what to add. The upcoming second season of Fargo counts among these. The first season was untouchable, and my rambling about it would not do it justice or be a very good use of my time. (But who am I kidding? Is any of this a good use of my time?) What about stuff like Boardwalk Empire? Slow, simmering, complex, an acquired taste, not for everyone… what could I really write that could give that epic its due? No, there is nothing. Maybe one day I will feel some great urge to “unpack” (one of those overused-of-late terms I hate, which seems to have seeped from academia into corporate jargon) Bobby Cannavale’s performance in Boardwalk or Boardwalk’s courageous and unusual choice of offing one of the leads early (setting the “no one is safe” tone early) or effusing about Michael K Williams in yet another unforgettable and iconic HBO role. But probably not.

In fact, writing about things I love is considerably more challenging than writing disparagingly about content that just does not make the cut. The more disappointing something is, the easier it is to excoriate.

And that’s how I reach my tale of watching The Affair, and my increasing hostility toward it. The only good thing about it: Richard Schiff. Seriously. Actually in the first season, which started off with some promise and a lot of positive buzz, Joshua Jackson stood out as both a good performance and as a good character. Every other character was so unlikable and selfish – and I mean everyone, right down to the main guy, Noah’s and his wife, Helen’s, kids – particularly the oldest daughter. Maybe the self-centered nature of man (and woman) is what the story is meant to be about. Every man for himself. And the actors in the roles play that selfishness and the slivers of perspective we get (when they point of view shifts from one character to another) to a T. I have read plenty of analysis about this show and its squandered potential, so I won’t bother in that vein.

I mostly wanted a reason to write that Richard Schiff commands the screen even when he only appears for two minutes. I mean seriously – I watched the show Ballers the other day just on the strength of his being in it. He is not even in it that much, but again, his presence elevated the show. And, oddly, because I did not go into Ballers with any expectations except maybe believing I would find the show stupid, I was pleasantly surprised (particularly in the episode in which Michael Cudlitz shows up… because, you know, Cudlitz always shows up. He’s almost as everywhere as the frighteningly omnipresent Tom Skerritt and still has plenty of time to increase his presence – and maybe join a ballet production – to reach Skerritt-like levels).

All I can say for these things – TV expectations, letdowns and surprises – is go figure.