I was not sure what to make of the show BrainDead. But I am enjoying it immensely as it goes along. But will it be long for this world? If ratings are any indication, no. You can see the fingerprints of Robert and Michelle King (responsible for The Good Wife) all over it. Will that pedigree change anything? The Good Wife suffered from low ratings throughout its entire run. BrainDead shares some casting overlaps, stylistics, and a superb cast overall, just stuffed with talent. I hope it gets a longer chance to prove itself. It’s a timely commentary – and tonic for the times.
The contentious nature of politics is ratcheted up a few million notches in this dark-comedy drama. A lot of crazed making up facts. Only at least there is an explanation: some bugs – literal insects – are taking over people’s brains. In our ‘real’ world, I guess we don’t have an explanation for the extremes. Politics is rough enough without erasing facts (or losing half your brain to a parasite and suddenly listening to The Cars’ “You Might Think” on repeat).
It’s a hyperbolic mirror of our current situation – Tony Shalhoub’s character wants to name a kiosk after Ronald Reagan (a WWII veteran! Only he’s not – he just feels like one because he made a movie in which he served in WWII) – and Shalhoub’s opponent wants to call the kiosk after Emma Goldman. There is no middle ground and no compromise.
I have been blown away by the German eight-part spy drama, Deutschland83. I love Germany, and Berlin in particular, but I cannot say I have ever understood German tastes. And when it comes to TV, it’s not like the Germans churn out anything that anyone outside of the German-speaking world wants to watch or copy. As I wrote the other day, the US and UK seem to travel on a fast-track highway of exchanging each other’s entertainment. The Nordic countries have infiltrated, exporting both their “Nordic Noir” dramas and the ideas behind them (to be adapted and redone to varying degrees of success). And even France has joined the fray, offering up stuff like Les Revenants, already remade into The Returned, and Engrenages (Spiral), and Les témoins (Witnesses). And Israel is a rich source of inspiration. But Germany? Not so much. Don’t believe me? I’m not the only one to think so.
“For decades, German TV drama was seen as reflecting the kind of cultural tastes that made David Hasselhoff a nation’s rock god: trite, unadventurous, psychologically challenging only when the lead actor of one particularly long-running detective show was outed as a former SS member.”
The premise: a young East German guy, Martin, is forced to become a Stasi operative in West Germany as a West German military officer named Moritz. His aunt is an upper-level Stasi operative herself, and she recruits him, against his will, and uses carrots (the promise of an apartment and car) and sticks (indirectly threatens her sister, his mother) to keep him in line. The story is taut and aligned with real events from the early 1980s. I am totally disappointed that it is only eight episodes long, but I was duly impressed with not just the pacing and storytelling at work but with the way the period is handled – so many of the events and fears of the moment (everything from nuclear annihilation to AIDS), so much of the music (“99 Luftballons” of course!), the “high-tech” developments of the time that young people today would be as clueless about as Martin is when he encounters them (he goes to steal a document and instead only finds a little plastic square with a hole in it – a floppy disk!).
You know how it is when you get all fired up to do something, and if you don’t strike while the iron is hot, the impetus to act dissipates or entirely disappears? Specific topics in writing are like that for me. I can’t count the times I have collected notes and links to articles that inspired or informed my thinking but then don’t write what I want to write immediately. Soon the inspiration is gone, and anything I would write later on the subject is devoid of the passion and sometimes entirely of the point I wanted to make.
(This is a different problem from being inspired and researching and drawing in a lot of information from a lot of sources, only to lose all the gathered information in one horrible technology crash. This also happened recently. Rest assured, I don’t think any of us is suffering or losing sleep over these articles I won’t be writing!)
I have already admitted to being a TV addict, half-watching copious amounts of the stuff while doing other things. Only giving it half my attention means that unless something is truly remarkable, I am not taking much away. I still, though, feel compelled to chronicle all this multitask erstwhile viewing, and if I don’t do it right away (either after watching a particular episode or finishing a season), I might as well not do it.
But here I am a few days after someone recommended the show The Leftovers to me. Usually I have already seen everything there is to see, so recommendations, while welcome, greet me as old news. The Leftovers is no exception. I watched it during its original run and was sometimes confounded, sometimes disturbed. I have no argument with the mostly powerful performances delivered by a large ensemble cast. But the fact that I almost remember nothing about the show, and a lot of its themes have been jumbled in my head with what I’ve seen in the disappointing US version of The Returned, makes me less than enthusiastic about recommending The Leftovers, even though I was drawn in at the time and will watch season two. Perhaps my TV addiction amounts to “too much of a good thing…”.
I am always impressed with Aaron Douglas – and his performance in The Returned is as good as any of his work. It’s just that the show doesn’t quite cut it. I have not seen the original French Les Revenants but tend to believe the original source material usually can’t be beat or recreated (with notable exception – I was quite taken with the US version of The Bridge, for example). The Returned, at its most basic, is about individuals who return suddenly from the dead and the effects this return has on the community in which these resurrections take place. Five episodes in, I don’t really know what’s going to happen but am not interested enough to care.
I love some of the actors in the US version of The Returned. I’ve already cited Douglas; Jeremy Sisto is masterfully diverse; Kevin Alejandro is a pop-up-everywhere kind of guy. India Ennenga is not bad either – her role in HBO’s Treme explored (as much as that giant ensemble of loosely intersecting stories could) teenage grief and identity. Oh, and I almost forgot – the inimitable Michelle Forbes! She dominates (in a good way) everything she’s in – had nearly forgotten her Battlestar connection. She almost makes me want to keep watching The Returned… but not quite.
But I don’t have enough time to keep watching things for which I don’t feel either love or hate. Just a few actors I happen to like isn’t reason to tune in. I’ve chronicled my hate-watching and desire to give up some of the shows, like The Following, that cry out for ridicule. I’ve also written about shows I love. But the mediocre middle ground, where shows like The Returned live, isn’t a place I want to spend more time.