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 – The Best at Year End

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Call me crazy, call me lazy, call me ambitious… but whatever you call me, I have seriously seen all of 30 of 35 of the shows in this best-of-2015 rundown. And the writer is right on the money about everything in the list – at least of the things I have seen. I’m not big on animation, which is ultimately why I haven’t seen stuff like Bob’s Burgers (it is in my Netflix queue) or Rick and Morty. I tried to watch Review but could never find it to see. And I had never really thought of The 100. I admit that I don’t even know what it’s about.

Unfortunately I am too tired to dream up a list of what else is out there that didn’t make the list … nothing likely tops the Vox list – it includes some of my favorites, even the almost-never-watched stuff like Manhattan (which came into its own in a big way in the second season), The Knick, You’re the Worst, The Leftovers, and Rectify. Even Justified made the list.

What strikes me as weird is that I somehow managed to watch all 30 shows, and that is not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of the things I have watched this year. It’s usually on in the background, but still… so.much.tv.

Weekend movie viewing: Miele and Drei

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While I did indulge in my normal TV viewing during the weekend (Danish show Dicte, all of season two of BoJack Horseman and this week’s episodes of Hell on Wheels and Rectify – how is Rectify only six episodes this season?!), I also watched a few films.

I have always loved films, particularly non-English-language films – the more obscure or difficult the better. I like getting lost in them, examining them, comparing what the characters say to what the subtitles say (when I can). That said, I don’t watch films very often now because I have too many other things to do. TV can be consumed in bite-sized morsels and is usually in English so I do not have to pay attention to subtitles (and even if it is not in English, it is episodic, so it can be turned on and off). Films demand more – more attention, more care, more time (not in the long run but upfront they do). I want to indulge but long gone are the days of watching five films per day, as I did once during a period of unemployment – it was cinema visits constantly coupled with the long-ago “innovation” of unlimited DVDs on Netflix. Yes, DVDs! This was way before streaming.

This weekend I watched Miele, an Italian film about a woman who seems dispassionately compassionate. She helps the terminally ill to die, providing veterinary drugs to help the dying take their own lives on their own terms. Her “moral code” is shaken, though, when she meets an older man who wants to die but claims he is not sick. It is through her connection to him that she seems to renew her connection to being human and feeling emotional. She seemed, through her work, to become more clinical and further and further removed from her feelings. She had things set up to keep people at bay. A married family-man boyfriend, work that requires certain boundaries for legal reasons, etc. It was a subtle film, and without being an outright debate about the morality of assisted suicide, it handled the topic with sensitivity. It presented some arguments and thinking about the subject without beating anyone over the head with it. And ended in similarly ambiguous fashion.

Then I watched a German film, Drei. It is a Tom Tykwer film, so it was very unusual in his unique way. But in many ways difficult to watch. For one, many scenes were like a collage of many different, overlapping activities that meant to convey the passage of time and activity. Like cheesy montage scenes without being cheesy. Secondly, the female lead in the film, Austrian actress Sophie Rois, is… well, not a good actress. I am sure other people may disagree, but she got so many downright weird looks on her face, none of which seemed to fit to the situation or reaction she was having – and that is when she was not just overacting. Oddly, in scenes near the end when her character had moved temporarily to London, her strong accent when speaking English coupled with this over-the-top, loud, obnoxious way of being, made it seem as though she had been plucked from the street and asked to act. She was that bad. Not just amateur or new – just bad.

The story, though, was interesting. As the two main characters reach the 20-year point in their relationship and find themselves questioning, dissatisfied and bored, but are not really talking to each other about it, they each start having an affair. The side effect, though, is that the affair reignites their passion and feeling for one another as well. Until the woman, after many years of not succeeding, becomes pregnant. At this point both she and her husband learn that they are each, separately, having an affair with the same man.

While there are many other things going on in the plot, many of which motivate these characters’ actions, it interests me that the couple realizes in the end that they want to be together but also want to be together, not separately, with the man with whom they both had an affair. I enjoy how the outcome challenges head-on what would happen in most films. (While it seems unlikely that a married couple in a big city like Berlin would somehow separately meet the same guy in very different ways and have an affair with him, I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of asking the bigger questions about relationships, fidelity, “sharing” and what really constitutes a relationship or happiness.)

The film embodies many opposites from the very standard way in which most TV and films deal with infidelity. A case in point: I watched the Danish TV show, Dicte, in which one of Dicte’s best friends has been struggling to have a baby and has had years of infertility treatments and finally gets pregnant. I think most people can guess, if they have not been through this ordeal, that the struggles to have a baby can take a real toll on a relationship. Naturally, you discover in the story that Dicte’s friend, Ida-Marie, has been so focused on her pregnancy and everything leading up to it that her husband has already gone off to have an affair. Dicte discovers the evidence when she goes to Ida-Marie’s house to pick up some clothes after Ida-Marie gives birth (and the husband is absent, missing the entire birth. He claims he was away on business in Germany. When the child is kidnapped from the hospital, of course the police get involved and discover that he was in Copenhagen with his mistress the entire time). By this stage, because it is TV, the marriage is basically over, even though Ida-Marie gives it another chance. Essentially all these people’s marriages end over infidelity. But on TV and most films it feels lazy not to at least try to work through the issues to get to their root, even if the couples involved cannot solve them (they sure as hell will not react as the characters in Drei, who decided to all be together).

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: Rectify – When you don’t do yourself any favors

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The quiet, weird calm on Daniel Holden’s surface occasionally erupts in blind rage – leading to events he does not remember. And he never does himself any favors – either in committing these impulsive and violent acts nor in how he goes about handling them. It’s frustrating as hell as a viewer but makes for very unusual storytelling – especially for episodic tv. Things Holden did sometime in the first season of the show are only coming back to light in the third season.

This is how Rectify operates. Very slow-moving drama, following Holden and his family and the other people in the town into which he is released after 20 years in prison. It is never clear that Holden is innocent. DNA more or less exonerates him, but the town (especially its power structure) remains suspicious of him. His odd behavior, speech and mannerisms make people uncomfortable enough that they are never sure he is innocent either. In fact, neither is he.

The show is deliberately slow and often so poetic and thoughtful in its dark and quiet explorations on different themes. As such, it does not surprise me that it is not widely watched – and not just because it lives on Sundance, not the most visible network. Cited many times by many media outlets as a hidden gem, too slow for many but worth the effort, it’s hard not to feel for and be frustrated by everyone involved – peculiar Daniel Holden, his impassioned sister, Amantha (one of many TV roles nailed by Abigail Spencer – see also the latest season of True Detective, previous seasons of Suits), his mother and stepfather and step-siblings (who have their own issues), and even his long-suffering and frustrated lawyer.

The frustration is a part of the beauty of the show and its character development. It moves more at the pace of real life, does not offer neat or happy endings and is as challenging to draw conclusions from as everyday life is. Thanks to Netflix, you don’t have to rely on reruns to see the previous seasons.