Category Archives: TV

Hand Of G-d

hogIn high school I realized I had the ability to compartmentalize, that is to switch off certain aspects of life in real time and focus elsewhere. I was being bitched out by my Spanish teacher in front of my classmates  for not paying attention to her reading aloud from a book. I still didn’t care  what she was saying so I focused on her necklace; an intricate collection of Aztec and Mayan silver figures stitched together with black leather threads and cobalt beads.

At the end of her long-winded and ultimately futile diatribe I simply asked her in Spanish- ‘Where did you get that necklace?’.

Maybe its being the product of 2 New Yorkers, a genomic mutation originating in a city of 8 million type-A people all jabbering on incessantly. Who knows? But I find the ability to switch it off tremendously useful.

In case you don’t have that ability, this new Amazon pilot, Hand of G-d,  might be a little difficult to watch. While I liked the pilot episode, much like The Killing, it revolves around crime, some painfully damaged people, suspense and plenty of mystery — very little of the plot is feel-good.

I don’t like the characters in this show from a personal or emotional perspective. However, the plot is very compelling – compartmentalization, engaged. A morally ambiguous judge suffers a personal crisis which catapults him into having waking dreams billed as visions from G-d. Subsequently he joins a religious group having some very shady members. The visions, while completely dismissed by everyone around him, show signs of being the truth. Writing is clever at suspending disbelief; the visions may be correct, they may also be circumstantial.

Acting from the cast is good considering the odd situation and combination of themes such as religious fanaticism, vigilantism and moral relativism. Most notable is the judge come religious cultist, played by Ron Perlman. Perlman has played some distinctly unlikable characters but I suspect this role will be very challenging as it seems he will be walking a line between dispensing the law as a judge and breaking the law as vigilante hiding under the guise of a religious awakening.

While continuing episodes could become trite, as they often do with anti-hero roles, I feel some supernatural element might be thrown into mix, which is appealing.  The pilot ends with a sledgehammer against a plate glass window, so to speak. so I’ll check up on Amazon later to see when or if this pilot turns into a series.

 

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Goodbye, Dexter Morgan.

dexterFinally I sat down long enough to watch the last season of Dexter. I was a little leery of spending time to watch the last season since it was not well-received by fans. However, other people’s opinions are just that, respected but not adopted.

I get Dexter fans’ disappointment. The last season had some good moments but it was a slow, linear burn to the end, which was clumsy and not at all in keeping with what had become a fast-paced, action-packed series filled with curves.

That said, I get what the creators were doing. In CM Hall’s other show, 6 Ft Under, the series finale wrapped up every character’s fate in what has become the best 10-minute segment ever recorded for television. In Dexter, the entire final season was an attempt to answer some unanswered questions about how Dexter came to be the serial killer who kills serial killers. I think it was just too drawn out which left me feeling bored and somewhat disconnected, since the story line wandered in its attempts to consolidate the mythology.

Some people objected to the sequence of events during the final episode. How else was it to end? Despite the season teasing us into thinking Dexter had outgrown his dark passenger, did we really expect a killer to sail off into the sunset with a happy ending?

Silly rabbit.

The final season was certainly the weakest but I still loved this series.  Aside from the interesting high-level story, the highlights for me:

CM Hall: He  had 5 years of practice playing a distorted, internally-conflicted character with his role in 6 Ft Under. He was  excellent at giving Dexter an unspoken depth and ambiguity; I was always torn between believing the character’s childhood trauma deleted his ability to empathize and believing it was there but dormant.

Jennifer Carpenter: The final season set up an internal conflict for her character which really showed her acting skills; its a shame her moment to shine was obfuscated by questionable story line choices. Her terrets-inspired monologues are still some of the best I’ve heard; even NY-ers  would respect her flowing delivery of the f-word.

CS Lee: The writers had fun with his character and CS Lee was a convincing vehicle. The pervy, dead-pan Masuka delivered what I thought was one of the funniest lines in the series. ‘That is not opinion, its SCIENCE. And science is one cold-hearted bitch with a 14-inch strap on’. Not even the cast could keep a straight face.

John Lithgow: His performance as the Trinity Killer was arguably the best villain of the series. His ability to turn on a dime from cold, calculating killer to internally tortured man-child was chilling.

Given the series ending, I strongly suspect there will be a Dexter feature film in the next few years. I just hope there is not a sappy reunion and happily-ever-after ending for our favourite anti-hero.

Luther

lutherI curse thee BBC for creating yet another addictive series.

Whilst watching The Wire some time back I did not realize Idris Elba was British, he wore a very convincing American accent as the drug-dealing Stringer Bell. In Luther, Elba restores his native British accent and steps to the enforcing side of the law as a London detective with a penchant for chasing down clever serial killers.

The character development is good, Luther being a street level cop with a keen instinct for understanding criminal behavior and an unswerving confidence in those instincts. This confidence causes routine conflicts with superiors, however he is usually spot on. Whatever psychological advantage he possesses at work is  a disastrous disadvantage when it comes to relationships otherwise. While this theme is not new to crime dramas, the plot is fresh and Elba’s performance is convincing.

Alice, a suspected serial killer, presents the first of many odd story arcs. Luther attempts to prove her guilt even though, we as the audience know she’s guilty, she is also very clever at covering her tracks and injecting doubt.  Alice is more adept at psychological cat-n-mouse than Luther but shes also disturbed and over-confident. Alice and Luther develop a bizarre  relationship characterized by precarious high-wire balance and high-stakes card calling. Ruth Wilson brilliantly plays Alice; she imparts a pairing of intellectual strength and emotional damage with chilling effect.

London is always good setting for a taut psychological crime drama; the city is simultaneously sophisticated, sexy, menacing and unpredictable, which makes it a pivotal character and reflects perfectly the characteristics of Luther making it an entertaining watch.

Only 14 episodes were made, most of which are free on Amazon Prime.

Cinesnob Recommends

I’ve known my friend Cinesnob for a long, long time; that’s why I can call him that and he won’t be offended. Oh, also he’s a Teflon-coated New Yorker and they don’t much care about other people’s silly opinions.

Cinesnob usually recommends films, without fail they are introspective, intellectual, abstract or surreal. Sometimes its all of the above. He has never recommended a TV series, so I was surprised when he recommended this one to me over the summer.

The series is ongoing but started in 2008, so luckily most of the previous seasons are free to stream on Amazon Prime. I finished watching the first season tonight and I have to say I like. Not for the same reasons as Cinesnob but that’s to be expected given our different perspectives.

While I was a little bored with the first two episodes, in retrospect, I see that these were necessary for character and plot development. Given the show is a Hell’s Angels version of the Sopranos, I was not entirely sold on the casting choice for the protagonist; he initially came off as more tortured surfer dude than cast-iron biker but that facade melted away.  The casting for the central characters is near perfect which must have been challenging given these characters are large and formidable. The story line after the first two episodes is compelling, if only because there are so many insinuations to darker pasts for the main characters. Action is balanced with introspection,  dilemmas are tilted and skewed for the moral distribution of outlaw psychology,  brutality coexists with equal compassion, often I find myself laughing out loud at the pitch-black humor.

While there are many reasons to watch, the biggest reason so far is the outstanding performance from Katey Sagal. I did not recognize the 80’s Married With Children star at all, so I was intrigued when I followed the IMDB links to her other works. Her character is the polar opposite to Peg Bundy – bold, calculating, unchallenged. I would say Sagal will be remembered as Gemma Morrow, the hard-boiled queen of mythical Charming, Ca.

The last two episodes of Season 1 are a daisy cutter of misinformation, poor decisions, cover ups and unresolved family implosion. So much so that I will likely tune in to see what happens next for the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Originals.

soa

Win Or Die

The Goddess of User Interface at my FT job went on about this show last year. The Goddess never goes on about anything really since she is a Goddess and therefore everything is peripherally amusing and noted for possible future reference. However, she told me how she watched one episode, then found herself inside for the entire weekend watching the whole lot back-to-back in a self-constructed marathon.

Noted.

I found myself in Target and noticed that Season 1 of the Goddess addiction show  was available on Blu Ray and  on sale. Quick Amazon price comp, then plop, into the cart it went.

I now understand Goddess’ short-term obsession as well as the IMDB rating of 9.4, which makes it the highest rated TV show (tied with Breaking Bad and The Wire)

It reminds me of what might have been happening in the rest of Middle Earth whilst the Hobbitsus were tromping about trying to hurl some ring into a volcano. It is an exceedingly brutal, violent, sexy, dramatic and even thought-provoking ride as families do what they must in an unrelenting struggle for power.  I tried to find some flaw in the show but the plot, writing, acting, production, direction, costumes, sets, location, props – everything is excellent. I believe this is what happens when you have talent, focus and collaboration in play simultaneously.

I like the high wire balance the writers have crafted. Not everything happens according to plan, there is no detectable pattern and often good does not triumph. Despite the emotional roller-coaster, sudden storyline swerves and a cast of characters that probably will be in the hundreds, there is serious character development and it seems plausible every step of the way.

I also like that most episodes end abruptly with a surprise  hammer-to-the-face plot twist, usually paired with a memorable tag line. My favorite so far,

“In the game of thrones, either you win or you die, there is no middle ground here”.

Thrones, modern day governments,  board rooms across the globe – its just a difference in clothing and titles.

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Twilight Zone, Blu Ray

tzIn a fit of disgust over rising costs and pathetic programming, I disconnected my cable in 1999 – no regrets. Since, I’ve physically rented and streamed media of interest. My 20s friends are the recommenders and mostly I’ve enjoyed their suggestions – Breaking Bad, The Wire, Dexter, Heroes, True Blood. But last year I became saturated with supernatural and drug themes so I started streaming some older shows free on Amazon Prime.

This led me to the show my grandparents hailed as THE ONLY SHOW on television to watch, The Twilight Zone. I never really thought much about it since it was from an era long, long gone by and typically no one takes the advice of grandparents when it comes to forms of entertainment.

However.

I really enjoyed the first few episodes I streamed is SD, which made me want to see them in HD, so I bought the Blu Ray set for Season 1. And BTW, visual definition is extraordinary and the audio has been completely remastered. There are loads of episode commentaries on the Blu Ray.

Twilight Zone was made between 1959-1964, so FX laden effects of modern TV are completely absent. It was filmed in full-screen format and in black and white. Most episodes were shot on a set in Culver City, so there is not much in terms of natural scenery or elaborate staging. Each episode is 25 minutes.

Given these limitations, which would kill most of today’s series, the stories from Twilight Zone register a to-bone impact. Why? I think it has to do with the content; each show zooms in on some human emotion; fear, isolation and greed being the recurring themes. These are themes everyone can relate to whether the timeline was 1959 or present day. Despite some vocabulary, which would be “quaint” by today’s standards, the content of the dialogue is relevant even today, giving Twilight Zone a timeless feeling.

Close-up framing is the standard filming mode which  puts more pressure on the actors to, you know, do their jobs well.  Tweezing out the complexities of human emotion in situations that are often outlandish and have quite a few twists is difficult. With no crazy sets, explosions, car chases and FX to back you up, even more so. But the actors, directors and producers from that era did an amazingly convincing job.

I’ve only watched Season 1 and a few episode from Season 2 but here are the standouts for me, in case you’d like to stream one for an experiment.

  • Where Is Everyone?
  • Third From The Sun
  • The Monsters Are Due On Maple St.
  • A Stop At Willoughby
  • The Hitchhiker
  • The Howling Man
  • Eye Of The Beholder
  • Nick Of Time

I wanted to zoom in on the last episode listed, Nick Of Time, since I just watched it. The episode pits superstition against rational thought but really, superstition is just a product of fear. The episode starts with William Shatner (in his 20s) and Patricia Breslin (in her 20s) newly engaged and on a cross-country trip. Their car breaks down and they wait for repairs in a small diner with a fortune telling machine. Shatner plays casually with the machine initially but the answers he receives from the questions he asks come true. Or is that what’s really happening?

Shatner is the strong, confident type externally, however we start to see that facade crack as he becomes more and more superstitious and compulsive about taking the advice of the machine. Breslin is the pretty but plain girl-of-the-60s and seems more emotional on the outside, but really she is the rational, logical one. The dialogue between them as she tries to talk him off the superstition fence is nothing short of brilliant. Shatner’s propensity for over-acting actually works well for this episode as he’s sucked in further by what he thinks is prophetic wisdom from a card-spitting machine topped by a plastic devil head.

In the end one of them clearly wins and they wander off set resolved. But then the next couple comes.

Fear vs. Rational Thought – a topic still alive and well today.

And it always will be.