not in our stars, but in ourselves
Obviously, I’ve been devoting an awful lot of space to Hannibal (live long, my love, and find a new home on Sky Network or Hulu or something) – but don’t worry. I’ve been watching a LOT of TV this summer. While I don’t quite have the mental fortitude to write full reviews about each (because if I did…I’d have been doing that all along), I will give you some capsules, because I can, so there.
1) I watched Show Me a Hero, of course. How could I not? David Simon AND Oscar Isaac? Be still, my lefty lusty heart! But of course, it was ultimately devastating. Should it have been? The war was won: the public housing was built, hundreds of people’s lives were markedly improved, and Yonkers continues to thrive to this day. (I assume, anyway. Sarah Lawrence is still going strong, charging exorbitant tuition fees, so the town can’t be doing too badly.) Nevertheless, the tragic tale of Nick Wasickso (Isaac) is impossible to shake off. It’s easy to dismiss 95% of politicians as self-aggrandizing sociopaths (case in point: Simon’s other famous mayor, Tommy Carcetti from The Wire), because that’s what most of them are – and the higher up you go, the more densely populated the sociopaths will be. There are exceptions, though, and Wasickso (or at least, Simon’s version of him) is one of them. His downward spiral at the end, all stemming from his inability to read people correctly, is awful to watch. This is something I was talking about with my boyfriend recently: there are people who believe so determinedly in something, who pour every last drop of blood and sweat and tears into it, who desperately need for that thing to be a success…and then, it flops. You see it with businesses, with products, with books, with movies, with albums – and, in Show Me a Hero, with Nick’s political career. It’s impossible not to feel immense pity for him, especially because he takes it so very badly. (Understatement of the year.) I’ve been wondering if it overshadowed the housing story, if the miniseries should have been longer – to allow sufficient room for the people moving into the townhouses, whose stories all feel a little bit rushed – or if maybe it should have chosen one over the other: the mayor or the people. Not to say it wasn’t a rewarding six hours of television, but it seems strange to me that Simon – whose specialty is forcing us to consider people we hardly ever see with the same sympathy and compassion we’d extend someone more like ourselves – would give so much emotional heft to Nick and comparatively little to the rest of the people in the miniseries. Nick’s story is a tragedy, so there’s plenty of grounds for telling it. I just wonder if maybe it was all too much in one miniseries. Maybe it wasn’t in the script as such; maybe Isaac is just too good of an actor. And too handsome. Dreamy sigh.
2) Somehow or other, I have NOT yet talked to you people about Review. Inexcusable on my part! It just might be the funniest show on TV right now. It is also occasionally, you know, soul-crushing – but that’s all part of the design. Probably. The show’s premise: Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) is a reviewer who will review literally any life experience suggested to him. Last season, he did things like eating 15 pancakes, going to space, and getting a divorce. This season, he continues to ruin his own life, and the lives of those around him. Just when I think he can’t possibly do anything worse, he does. He turns it up to eleven, then twelve, then ninety-five, then three-billion. You’ll laugh, but you’ll probably also watch with your jaw on the floor. In a genuinely great piece of insight, Observer‘s Sean T. Collins – in an interview with series co-star James Urbaniak – calls Forrest “the Walter White of Comedy.” He explains:
Even though the only time he acknowledges it before the first season finale is in one brief fit of self-pity while eating an enormous stack of pancakes (don’t ask), Review shows Forrest slowly but surely destroying his life and the lives of everyone around him. His marriage ends. Multiple people get killed. All under the rubric of this preposterous high-concept mockumentary show.
In other words, Review is a satire not just of reality shows, but of New Golden Age of Television antihero dramas, hiding in plain sight. It takes the basic “man ruins all he cares about in the name of something that makes him nominally freer and more powerful” structure of the genre and plays it for deliberate laughs. Instead of a meth empire or a mafia family or a double life, he commits his bad acts in the name of the television show that chronicles them. He’s Walter White, but without the sense that there’s anything tragic about him — he’s just an oblivious faux-smart buffoon. It’s a satire of the middle-class middle-aged white-male entitlement and privilege that all the big dramas treat as the stuff of life.
You should just watch it. I’m telling you. It’s the best comedy on TV right now.
3) It feels like a million years ago, but I also watched Deutschland 83 (which premiered on American TV before German TV, perversely enough). I’m always up for a good Cold War story, but I believe this was the first time I’d seen one from the German perspective – the East German perspective, at that. It’s about Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), a naive soldier in the East German army who’s selected to go to the West and pose as a high-ranking general’s aide-de-camp. East Germany is convinced that the West is going to help the U.S. facilitate a nuclear strike against Moscow, thus obliterating them as well. West Germany, for its part, is reluctant to let the U.S. and the rest of NATO bully it into anything that even looks like aggression – because they’re afraid of the same thing as the East. Central Europe isn’t that big a place, after all. I love the Cold War in film and TV, because it was – in many ways – a “war” about nothing. Ideology isn’t land, or a resource, or a strategic advantage. However, it’s obviously all the more dangerous for it. If you’re fighting to advance or defend a way of life, you’re risking millions of lives for…what? The Pledge of Allegiance? Posters of Karl Marx? It’s absurd, if you think about it. Deutschland 83 does a great job of capturing how worked up everyone was at the time, though. To their minds, nuclear war was all but inevitable, and they whipped themselves into a frenzy trying to prepare for it, or defer it, or whatever Moscow/Washington insisted on at the time. And rather than consider the fact that – especially in Germany – they all had much more in common, and perhaps ought to try to figure out a way to co-exist peacefully, each side drank the Kool Aid proffered by either the Yanks or the Reds, and saw the other as the enemy. The show doesn’t belabor that point – but it’s there. There’s also plenty of fabulous ’80s fashion and music, and some sudsy side plots involving Rauch and his amorous exploits in the East as well as the West, but it’s all terribly enjoyable.
4) Again – a million years ago! It’s been a long summer. BBC America aired Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and it was a delight. My boyfriend and my two now-former roommates had all read the book, but I was coming into it fresh. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it’s about two English magicians: the titular Strange (Bertie Carvel) and Gilbert Norrell (Eddie Marsan). The time and place invite comparisons to Jane Austen – whom I love, obviously – but it is quite blokey. Not in a bad way. I like blokes, don’t worry. There are times when it feels a bit like Charles Dickens, if only Dickens had had a sense of humor; and other times when it feels almost like Arthur Conan Doyle; and still other times when it feels like some sort of screwball comedy/drama that would have starred William Powell and Cary Grant if it had come out eighty years ago. It’s not exactly about Big Ideas – but it’s terrific, and well worth watching. (And may I add: Regency fashion really was a wonderful thing for men. The wild hair, the breeches, the frock coats, the option of either stockings to show off shapely calves or boots to show off that they meant business – dear god, men, why aren’t you STILL dressing like that?!)
5) Currently, my boyfriend is working on filling in the blank spots in my television education. We did Twin Peaks last year and at the start of this year; we tried to do Firefly but I didn’t really like it (I’ll get through it, calm down, geez); and now we’re doing Deadwood. Still in season one, so I don’t have a whole lot of cogent insight to offer, but it is a great goddamn show. And I appreciate its commitment to the anachronistic “cocksucker,” hurled around in nearly every scene. More soon, perhaps. In the meantime, a dumb thought: the world has been sleeping on Timothy Olyphant, for real. He is FOINE! Why isn’t he a huge heartthrob? What’s wrong with people?! Ugh.
What do you think I should watch? What am I missing out on? I know I need to see Mr. Robot. What else? Can you recommend some things that aren’t quite so…um…white and male? Because as much as I’ve enjoyed all of the above, well, look at the photos. (My sexy little Guatemalan cinnamon roll, Oscar, is obviously excused from that category in real life.)