TV

Death and HBO’s “Six Feet Under”

Six-Feet-Under

Jonathan May

Please stop reading if you haven’t watched the show in its entirety.

Say this to yourself: “I’m going to die. So is everyone I love and hate.” Now—stop, breathe, and keep watching. This is the main way I was able to make it through all five seasons of one of the finest series I’ve watched. A show built around cycles of life and death shouldn’t work as well as this one did; I became one with the Fishers and their struggles. I felt bored with Brenda’s inability to change and tired of Nate’s commitment to all the wrong virtues in his attempt to face mortality. I rejoiced with Ruth as she was able to finally find a sense of happiness in herself. I ugly-cried during the last five minutes of the last episode, as the remaining (and honorary) Fishers passed through the veil one by one in quick succession just as Claire was starting on her journey. Honestly if you don’t cry, you’re probably a monster. The fact that we “see” the end through Claire gives beautiful irony to her rheumy eyes as she lies dying, as if we’re experiencing the emotions somehow through both ends, filled with possibility and the fulfillment of that possibility.

It’s funny how the deaths, which precede each episode, become almost anticipatory, but when one of the Fishers or their circle dies, suddenly we’re back at step one, grieving all over again, as they do. The show really builds off its premise in a metanarrative way, imbuing the whole thing with a keen sense of “flow, segmentation, development, and change” (all the qualities of fine abstraction, as Kirk Varnedoe wrote so deftly). When you stand back and examine the show in its entirety, the ending becomes inevitable. We must all reconcile with the reality of our own deaths, but the show succeeds in being more than a constant harbinger of mortality; it spills over with the full and complex lives of the Fishers. Their fights, their drugs, their sex, their dinners, their work, their inner thoughts, their dreams. We are faced with life in all its swift and capricious glory. The show is so infused with life that death seems merely a way of passing into the sequence of history and the hearts of those who remain and love your memory. So, while the show is definitely worth watching (and rewatching), it should stand as an even more important reminder to live fully in your own moments.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com

Advertisements

Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Batman: The Animated Series

batman

Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going.

One of the perennial Batman questions is, “Who played him best?” Do you like Adam West’s camp and goofiness? Maybe Michael Keaton’s slightly nerdy turn did it for you. Perhaps, for some reason, you liked George Clooney and his suit nipples. A lot of people prefer Christian Bale’s elegant Wayne and imposing Batman, but no one has done it better than Kevin Conroy. Pretty much any time you’ve seen a Batman cartoon, Conroy’s been the one doing Bruce Wayne. His stellar voice acting is one of the reasons that Batman: The Animated Series is the best screen interpretation of the Bat. It is an amazing show: beautiful, well-acted, philosophically deep, and highly artistic.

The list of things TAS has done for Batman is long, but foremost among them is steer the public consciousness of Batman away from Adam West’s sunny, hippy, bat-tastic version into the grim persona most are familiar with today. Frank Miller returned grim to the Caped Crusader, but TAS cemented it. Mostly through its action, we went from the hokey, paunchy sixties Batman to the Bale batman who tortures people to get answers and deals with major antagonists by leaving them to die. He didn’t kill people and he didn’t curse (kids show), but he did deal with identity crises, betrayal, and loss, and the art and direction of the show has almost every frame oppressively shadowy.

This is the best intro of all time. It also gives you an idea of the show’s aesthetics.

The art direction of this show is one of the main draws. A lot of cartoons are unimaginative, and the art is just something to throw on the screen to support the sound. Each frame of TAS is original, distinctive, and iconic. Imposing buildings stretch into skylines splashed in ocher and black, the lines are angular and threatening, art deco caught in a Lovecraftian nightmare. The voice acting is another impressive bit of this show. One of the main criticisms of Christian Bale’s interpretation is that his actual Batman voice sounds like a mix between an old bear caught in a trap and the raptor cry from Jurassic Park. It is over the top and ridiculous. Conroy’s Batman voice is deep and threatening, but still within the realm of what humans should sound like. His Bruce Wayne voice is noticeably higher and more friendly. The beautiful thing about Conroy’s Dark Knight is that the Batman voice is the one he uses all the time, with all those close to him, mask on or off. The Wayne voice only comes out if he has to talk to shareholders or reporters, which underlines one of the main keys to Batman’s identity: Bruce Wayne is the mask.

Bruce Wayne’s voice. Chummy and nonthreatening.

Batman’s voice. Small, subtle shift that makes it about 10 times more menacing. Also, as a sidenote for the this-show-is-super-deep-for-kids argument, Batman is dosed with fear toxin, and his biggest phobia is not spiders or heights, but his dead father’s disapproval.

What Faulkner said of whiskey applies to this show. There’s no such thing as a bad episode of Batman: The Animated Series, some episodes just happen to be better than others. There are three key episodes you should watch. “Almost Got ‘Im,” in which many of Batman’s adversaries sit around playing cards and talking about how close they came to finally beating the Caped Crusader. The structure allows for a handful of Batman-kicking-ass vignettes, and the poker game narrative itself is a vital part of the episode. This is a masterful use of frame narrative. You know what else uses frame narrative? The Odyssey, Heart of Darkness, and The Canterbury Tales. I wasn’t kidding around when I called it artistic: it shares some techniques with a Greek epic and a foundational text of English literature. Another good one is “I Am the Night,” which starts with a grimmer-than-usual Batman reading an article about yet another criminal’s release from jail. It sends him on a spiral of self-pity and self-doubt, and the focus of the episode is the Bat regaining his confidence and his sense of purpose. This is surprisingly heavy stuff for a children’s cartoon. In this episode, he quotes Santayana, for chrissakes. The last one that I’m listing here, just because it really stuck with me from the time I watched it when I was 12, is “His Silicon Soul.” An impostor Batman is found running around on the rooftops, and of course, an angered Batman explores. The answer to the mystery involves AI, 1950s robotics, and a wonderfully pulpy, flashy plot.

I rewatch these all the time, and they never get old. Watching these is not just about Batman’s gruffness and karate taking you through a rollicking good time. It certainly has that, but it is also visually stimulating and filled with philosophical dissections of who Batman is and what the point of his mission is. The art direction, acting, and intellectual content is much more highbrow than a lot of what is on offer to adults today. It is, always and forever, one of the best things ever to be on television, and now the whole thing is free to stream if you have an Amazon Prime account. Worst case scenario, you will enjoy your nostalgic interaction with a classic 90s afternoon cartoon, but it’s very likely you will be blown away by just how sophisticated it is.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.

Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Simon Barry’s Continuum

show

Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going.

A few years ago, everyone was bemoaning the loss of quality SF programming on television. Lost had delivered one of the most reviled endings of all time, Battlestar Galactica had wrapped up, the Sci-Fi Channel had just been bought out by Swedish media conglomerate Syfy, which for some reason thought Americans only cared about ghosts and those who hunt them. There was a bit of a dry spell there for a minute, but in the past couple of years TV producers have looked at the success of shows like Battlestar and Lost and threw SF into a lot of their primetime fare with a gleeful what-will-stick-to-the-wall type attitude. The majority of these shows are major flops (I do not know first hand, but I hear Extant is terrible), but in defense of the television executives, a lot does actually stick to the wall. One such show is Continuum.

The_Swedish_Chef

Pictured: the man in charge of all Syfy programming.

Its premise hooked me quick. In the year 2077, governments across North America have defaulted, and corporations bailed them out. State sovereignty no longer exists, and the North American Union is administered by a Corporate Congress, where the most powerful corporations run everything. So what’s different, you may ask. Fair enough. Today, if a corporation does not like an organization, they will take a senator out to a very nice lunch and talk to them about all the nice lunches and campaign contributions to come in the future if they sponsor legislation against the interests of said organization. In the future of Continuum, corporations own the police, which is now a private security force, and they would simply pay these security professionals to kill literally everyone involved in any way with this organization. Ah, the invisible and silenced gun of the free market! The show opens with the apprehension of the leaders of a terrorist organization that bombed the Corporate Congress and killed thousands of people. They are going to be mass-executed in a weird future electric-dais thingy, but when the machine activates, the terrorists throw a device into it. Kiera, our hero, is a cop guarding the detainees. She sprints towards the machine to see what’s going on, and then all people anywhere near it disappear in a massive blast. Kiera wakes up in Vancouver in 2012. All the terrorists went back in time as well, and she has to singlehandedly stop them, relying on nothing more than her pluck, determination, and highly advanced bio-implants and supersuit.

The show is hybrid organism, SF-time-travel tissue over a procedural cop drama endoskeleton. The presence of technology in the show is appealing. Kiera is sent back in time solo, but she has many implants (for example, a communications suite implanted directly into her brain/ears, and an eye implant that provides a super-soldier style HUD, can take fingerprints, record evidence, etc) and a standard-issue supercop suit, which is bulletproof in addition to giving her enhanced stamina and strength, cloaking abilities, and a built-in taser. Aside from this, and the advanced technology sometimes employed by the terrorists, most of the show stays in 2012 as far as equipment goes. The technology is central to the narrative, but it is non-intrusive. Kiera’s main weapon is not her suit, but her ability to insinuate herself into the Vancouver Police Department and use police strategies to track down her targets. The story definitely relies on the tropes of future-tech, but it’s not overused, nor is it ever the source of some goofy deus-ex-machina. Kiera herself is the center of the show – torn away from her family (a husband and a little boy), unable to get back, knowing that any change made by her or the terrorists could mean her son will never exist (like Back to the Future, but with less Chuck Berry and more complete isolation and existential terror). The show also does well by not simplifying the terrorists – sure, these are mass-murdering monsters, but the system they want to bring down is horrifying. Kiera wants to take them out to preserve her way of life, which her and many people in 2077 enjoy. Fine, woohoo, let’s root for Kiera! On the other hand, if you go into debt in that world, they implant you with a chip that turns you into a hindbrain-using meatpuppet building microchips in a dark factory forever, so the goals of the terrorists, if not their methods, are eminently understandable. There is a delicious complexity around this issue – as an audience member, do you root for the good person supporting a corrupt system, or for the bad people trying to take down that system?

The season one trailer, to get a basic feel for the actiony parts of the show

The most high-minded trope of the show is time travel. None of the big players fully understand how it works – they work under the assumption that present actions will change future consequences, but they don’t really know anything. The show draws a lot of water from this well, but it’s okay because the well is very deep. Some questions raised are how can the terrorists even know their actions will have the outcomes they want, how can Kiera ever return to her actual future now that her very presence in the past is changing it, and how, over the course of time, people become what they are. This last question is explored mainly through Alec Sadler, Kiera’s hacker buddy (no timewrecked futurecop ever goes long without finding a hacker friend). He meets Kiera because the rig he built in his parent’s barn can access her military-encoded communications chip. This is because he built that chip, or will build it – Alec Sadler is the CEO of the biggest corporation in the North American Union, which makes him de facto leader of the world. He is the one behind many of the evils of 2077, but in 2012, he’s just a shy, geeky tech dude. In a standard cop drama, seeing the hacker buddy becoming ever more competent, more self-confident, seeing him get the girl and outwit the competition, would be a positive thing. In Continuum, there is always an ominous shadow over his character development, as it is taking him ever closer to becoming basically King Bowser.

alec

Pictured: Alec Sadler. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Of course, in the future, he feeds them with the blood of his enemies, so.

The show uses some tired cop-drama tropes, but it is concept-driven, entertaining, and while it’s not quite as cerebral as Primer, it explores the intricacies and implications of time travel with honesty and detail. You should watch it, and the following five words are the most convincing part of my (or really anyone’s) argument to watch Continuum (or really any show): every episode is on Netflix.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.

I Tortured Myself with the Pilot of ABC’s “Selfie” and it’s Even Worse Than You Think

selfie

Alex Russell

I don’t even know where to start with this. I wasn’t really excited for any new TV coming out, so I checked out all of the A.V. Club’s preview of fall TV. Their review of ABC’s Selfie intrigued me. They said “The sitcom wants to be a critique and exploration of selfie culture—and the vapidity it breeds. However, it comes off more as a scathing and heavy-handed mess that at times teeters into slut-shaming territory.”

Yikes, right? I’m not really a big fan of bad TV that’s just boring or stupid, I only want to watch it if it’s a full-on tire fire. I watched Rob Schneider’s Rob for a previous blog and I thought nothing could ever take that show’s spot as The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Watched, but ABC absolutely demands to be in the conversation with the pilot for Selfie.

You can watch it online (don’t) before it debuts in two weeks, but you should also prepare yourself for the commercials. I don’t know what they’re going to find to clip out of this to make this seem funny, so it’s mostly going to be poor Karen Gillan screaming “Instagramification!” at you.

I guess we should start with the premise. Karen Gillan plays Eliza, and Eliza, like, totally doesn’t get the “offline” world. She only cares about selfies and likes, and she doesn’t care about your dumb business meeting, or whatever. The character is so far off the deep end that it’s not even funny anymore, like if a stand up comic was trying to do five jokes at the same time. There are so many buzz words it feels like the writers are terrified that if they don’t consistently remind you that they “get it” that you’ll lose interest. It feels desperate.

It starts absurd with a gross-out puke scene on a plane that contains the following real, not-at-all-made-up-by-me phrases:

  • “Panic pudding” (this is “puke” of course, because why wouldn’t it be ugh ugh ugh)
  • “Grindr’s remorse” (god damn you ABC)
  • “Gif yourself through this” (GO TO WORD JAIL.)

“Gif yourself through this” alone is one of the most horrifying zeitgeist grabs I’ve ever heard. In another context, it would be a biting satire of our tech-obsessed culture, and I have to assume that’s what they’re going for, here. I’m certain ABC wants to have it both ways and to successfully make something people view as both a celebration of and a mockery of the same thing. It didn’t work for me. It really did not work for me.

Things get worse when her boss, who totally does care about your business meeting and stuff, shows up. John Cho plays Henry, the super-serious, no-fun-at-all businessman character who needs to convince Eliza to put down her phone and care about What Really Matters. It’s a classic pairing of fun vs. serious that honestly may work better as the series goes on. In the pilot, he’s out to prove to her that she needs to learn everything he knows — after she says “if you don’t like me, then change me” which is repulsive — and she responds with a comment about how she won’t do “backdoor stuff” with him. You have your choice of what component of that makes you angriest. They’re all fine options.

He scolds her in rhymeA grown adult who is the boss of another adult scolds her in a rhyme oh my god this is so gross. It’s an entire rhyme about how she should dress and act at a wedding they’re going to together. Since her character is played more like a tall child — and she knows about life, dummy, just a different life! — Selfie thinks you’ll look past all this. You shouldn’t, but even if you do, you’ll find that it’s a travesty just as a comedy.

The main character in this comedy in 2014 says the following, which I’m going to bold: “I waited until the coast was clear, like Katy Perry on Proactiv.” If that’s “subversive” then I’m too stupid to get their takedown of a skincare product commercial.

People are going to argue for Selfie, which is fine. There’s music by Aimee Mann and M.I.A. There’s a series of running jokes about how her neighbor is a misunderstood indie girl like Zooey Deschanel. That’s… about as good as the jokes get. Hopefully this will get better after the pilot, because it certainly can’t get worse.

But as a whole, this is a miserable 22 minutes. People should not be saying hashtag out loud, period. Maybe it makes me sound like someone’s grandfather, but jokes about how girls like Zooey Deschanel like ukuleles and how people post too much food on Instagram are played out in 2014. If you’re going to “take down” social media culture, pick some better targets.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 

 

Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Doctor Who – There’s a New Doctor in Town

image source: mirror

image source: mirror

Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going. 

Doctor Who is back, and they’ve got a new doctor. Peter Capaldi, an old, celebrated, and cantankerous Scotsman, is taking over from Matt Smith. On the season premiere night, I sat with equal parts dread and anticipation, hoping that the hole into which the show has been falling since Moffat took over would be filled in somewhat. Good news: it has been. Somewhat.

The major problems of season seven, the glaring, show-ruining problems, included breaking the internally consistent rules of the Whoniverse, not giving a rat’s ass about personal character development (any character from season seven could have died with absolutely no emotional response from me), and a complete lack of dedication to any type of overarching season narrative, which has been a fairly standard piece of television fiction since Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Many of these problems have been fixed (on the evidence of two episodes) with varying degrees of success.

First off, there is a new doctor. Matt Smith was fine and all, but I always had trouble understanding the rabid fan dedication to him. He could not communicate the smoldering menace and goofiness of nine, nor could he fully handle the mercy/anger dichotomy and manic wonder of ten. Each new regeneration is a completely new doctor, so it’s completely excusable that he was not the same, but I feel like what he brought to the role was a lot less than his predecessors. He seemed to be running a poor emulation of the last two doctors with an extra dash of silliness, and his acting chops were not equal to the complexity of the character. It also didn’t help that the guy cast to play a millennia-old alien looked like a twelve-year-old. Peter Capaldi’s showing in the beginning of this season gives me hope.

Capaldi is 56 years old. His extensive acting experience and his gray hair help to lend some much-needed gravitas to the role. Doctor Who has always straddled a line between seriousness and silliness, and Smith’s fez-loving incarnation took it too far over the silliness line. Capaldi’s eyes and age help him communicate the anger and weariness of a man who has been trying to save the universe for millennia. Another welcome personality change is that this Doctor is downright mean.

image source: gawker

image source: gawker

These are not the eyes of a man who wears fezzes. Fezzi?

He is old, he is angry, and he wants to do good, but he could not give less of a shit about your feelings. In the beginning of episode two, he rescues a soldier while leaving her brother to die. She expresses anger and loss, and the Doctor’s only response is basically to call her out as an ingrate. In the first episode, when Clara (his companion) and he get in a tight spot, he straight up abandons her. He does the calculation, realizes if he leaves then he has a better chance of saving both of them, and then just goes. At another point in the season, a man is about to die. The Doctor gives him something to swallow, and the audience expects him to be saved, but he is dissolved by the attacker and the Doctor does nothing. Clara yells at the Doctor for this extremely callous act, and he responds by saying the pill was a tracker, and they will now be able to figure out where the remains are stored. This Doctor shows a practical and unfeeling acceptance of death as part of the territory, an attitude that makes sense in his line of work, and one that was conspicuously absent in other incarnations. He also insults Clara repeatedly, but this may be due more to social ineptitude than any intent to cause harm. After David Tennant’s run, in which he would apologize profusely to anyone who was about to die or whom he was about to kill, and Matt Smith’s run, which for some reason I can only picture as him jumping around giving lollipops to everyone he meets, it is an interesting direction to have a Doctor who is still dedicated to doing good, but is significantly less squeamish about the moral dilemma of means versus ends.

nBecdKf

I loved Tennant in the role, but he was a bit of a softy.

The writing team is also doing a better job giving actual depth to the supporting characters. Clara is written as a little egomaniacal and pushy, which is better than being written as the nothing of the previous season. She is still a basically good person, but she has some depth this time around because she has some flaws. In the second episode of this season, a recurring character is introduced and was given a backstory which immediately made me care if he lived or died, something the writers in season seven failed to accomplish over the entire season arc.

The other glaring fault that ruined season seven of Doctor Who was a complete disregard for complex storytelling or internal consistency. It is hard to tell just two episodes in, but that seems to have improved as well. The plot of both episodes so far is pretty simple and silly, but that is absolutely okay — that is part of what Doctor Who is — a handful of stunning episodes supported by a bed of rough-and-tumble, uncomplicated space opera. What was inexcusable in season seven and what is not happening now is that the plot resolution never made sense, was deus ex machina every time, or was just completely unsatisfying and forgettable. As far as complex storytelling, they are doing a much better job setting up the Big Bad and an overarching season enemy. Some of the people who die in each episode end up in a very nice garden setting, greeted by a woman who calls herself Missy and tells them they have made it to heaven. Something in the carriage of the woman or the too-good-to-be-trueness of the afterlife makes it ring false, and this subtle sense of something being wrong makes it ominous.

To really know if the show is coming out of a slump, we’ll have to wait and see how they handle the entire season, but current data hints that our favorite Gallifreyan might be back in the saddle. I fully intend to watch this show for the rest of my life, and I fully expect its quality to roller-coaster up and down over the years, but here’s hoping we’re currently on an upswing.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Eight – Cairo

the leftovers episode 8

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

I want you to understand: spoilers.

Where do I start?

So if irony is the case where the viewer knows more than the characters, what is the opposite of that called? I’ll start there, because if once was bad enough, Kevin’s lapse of memory is awfully convenient for set pieces. But hey, the guardian angel character knows what happened right? Just in case the viewer is confused?

It’s like that moment when Jill and Aimee argue over whether Aimee had sex with Jill’s dad, and a whole bunch of sarcasm is used, and you still end up not knowing whether it actually happened. Even the twins afterward have a hard time proving or disproving it.

So here’s the problem: just because you use gaps in memory and divine coincidence and sarcasm to fill the cracks of plot with glue does not mean that anything is intact.

How about Liv Tyler? That opening shot with her beating the living tar out of Matt Jamison and her cussing the living daylights out of our ears was probably the nicest part of the episode. That was after the toneless introduction of Kevin and Patti arranging a table and room respectively. Great directorial transitions between the two, excellent lighting, beautiful music, and nothing to show for it. Sure you could claim some kind of parallels, but in hindsight it seems to be some bookend to her death in Kevin’s arms.

Yes, I’m aware also of the parallels between the knife in both Jill’s and Kevin’s hands, but I just care so little. It’s episode eight and Jill is still playing detective. I could say that Jill began the classic adulthood stage of paranoia, in which we all fit the massive amounts of information from Wikipedia into little stories we call our lives. I could say that, whether through divine assistance, or through radical will, Patti was not going to leave that cabin. I could say that perhaps Aimee has some serious family issues like Nora, considering we haven’t seen any of her family and we haven’t seen her leave Kevin and Jill’s house, and she got all shaky and hurt whenever Jill pushed her about “moving on.” But I’m not, because I am tired.

I definitely think this show is for somebody, like that somebody who watched Synecdoche, New York five times in a row and drooled on a clipboard. At least in this episode there were some interesting visual displays: zooming in on both Jill and Kevin’s faces, for example. But I am way too tired of being tugged around by plot. The plot is heavy and the characters are light and they all bow down to the mighty conflict. It’s like that aggressive coworker that explains their whole predicament only to push you verbally to say, “Okay, I’ll help you.”

I think The Leftovers is trying to create an overarching and powerful plot, while at the same time building the story on sand in order to prove that plots are futile, and I think they failed. It’s not like they didn’t work their asses off, it’s just that they didn’t commit to either. You’ve got Nora’s run-in with Wayne, Tommy’s highway stop with the bodies in which the view is “just like his dream.” Kevin’s father is telling him that his “services are needed.”

Yet Gladys gets murdered and we’re told that Patti and the gang killed her. And you realize that any dramatic emotion you had over Gladys was kind of bullshit, and you wonder why you bothered picking up the show in the first place. Or maybe that was their whole point?

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: 24

24

Mike Hannemann

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: 24’s triumphant return to television and when a half-season is just right.

When 24 was cancelled back in 2008, well, the word “cancelled” actually meant something. Thanks to digital streaming services and Kickstarter, now nothing is truly final on the TV landscape, which is great when shows like Arrested Development meet their end too soon, but it can be a little alarming when shows like 24 end. It could come back, and who knows what it would be like.

On paper, renewing 24 for another season six years after it left the airwaves seems like a huge mistake. It seems like something that Fox devised to cash in on a once-beloved show to rake in some ratings and advertising revenue when other networks were burning off remaining episodes of the nonsense that didn’t make the cut this year. It’s a no brainer. Put Kiefer Sutherland on screen, let him yell and blow things up for an hour, and it’ll pull in an audience. So when I found out one of my once-favorite shows was coming back I was… cautious, at best, in my expectations.

Anyone who has seen the show knows the dip in quality the final seasons had. The show had run out of ideas. The gimmick, 24 hours of real time drama, had been exhausted. Hell, it had been exhausted as early as season one when the now-expected cliches were used for the first time. But Sutherland’s acting and some genuinely smart storylines kept the show going. And going. And going (cue clock ticking sound here). Then, in 2014, 24 finally realized that it didn’t need to be a gimmick. It could just be itself.

And that’s what happened this summer.

It almost seems like a coming of age story, for a show’s legacy. The writers decided to throw the 24-hour real time aspect to the curb. The season was 12 episodes, and the focus wasn’t “OK, how can we make this one long day that keeps the clock ticking?” it was “Alright. What do people love about this show that has nothing to do with the clock? Yeah, let’s go with that.” The show decided to invest its time in the most beloved aspects: Jack Bauer being an unrelenting badass, Mary Lynn Rajskub’s fan-favorite character Chloe O’Brian hacking every conceivable piece of technology known to man, and a sense of escalation that didn’t need to be calmed back down every five hours to figure out what the hell to do from here.

Not to belabor my point on viewing the show’s lifespan in the sense of yours or mine, but 24 is finally done living in its high school years. It has its own identity now that has nothing to do with the number 24 other than that’s… just what people called it. It isn’t beholden to what it used to be. It held on to the best part of its past and it grew up, got a job and a 401k, and finally started using that treadmill that’s been gathering dust for years (but kept that beat up sofa it loved).

“Hey man, why do they call you 24?”

“Long story, doesn’t really matter anymore. They called me that in college, the name just kind of stuck.”

You can watch 24 on Amazon Instant Video or Fox’s website. It may or may not get another season/mini-series/movie/animated cartoon.

Image: New York Daily News

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Seven – Solace for Tired Feet

the-leftovers-hbo-season-1-episode-7-solace-for tired-feet

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Spoilers for Tired Feet

This show is constantly going to push you to wonder if it is worth your time. I don’t mean that in some grocery store aisle kind of way where you have some leftover (haha) cash and you can’t decide between Snickers and 3 Musketeers. What I mean is that the show in and of itself (yeah, I’m using that well-worn phrase) relies on you to provide its interpretation. Let me explain.

It’s not like we weren’t aware of how much the show brings up classic examples of religion only to shoot it down. Matt Jamison’s explanation getting trampled on by Kevin is just another example, but now they seem to trample on their own created religions. Wayne’s Asian franchises brings up the awkward chain of people in history that have claimed to be related to divinity, yet just like the factory scene from a couple episodes back, the one where they put together babies only to have one used as the baby Jesus, all of it is produced in assembly line ways. Wayne’s total awareness and Tom Garvey’s lack of awareness has us all awash with religious insecurity and bullet holes next to our twiddling thumbs.

Great metaphors and symbols for our modern times, right? Except that The Leftovers as a show has been created with little subtlety or regard for tone. Take the first scene in which we hear the all-male chorus chime in during the Guilty Remnant protest while Kevin gives up and turns away from pursuing his father. The easy question to ask is, “How did his father even escape?” but the real question is, “What is the purpose of the music and slowed footage?” The final shot of the three main women in the cult looking at Kevin had me baffled with what I was supposed to take away from that moment. Are we sad that he lost his father? Are we confident that Kevin is crazy and these ladies know it? Is all of it futile? The show never reveals its cards, expects you to play, but doesn’t even bother to explain the rules.

But hey, Nora and Kevin DID IT and boy was that great.

But let’s start to wrap this series up: this show is bad. Christine’s solo water birth notwithstanding, it’s going to take some incredible work to bring all of this back together. Who exactly is receiving the “solace” and who has the “tired feet?” Is it okay to realize only now the extent of Kevin’s medicinal addictions? Is it okay to show Jill a note that we don’t get to see, and then use it as dramatic collateral for a moment with a 1972 issue of National Geographic?

We’re all working too hard. Let’s use something simple. Liv Tyler comes in all hot and bothered by Nora and Kevin’s sexcapade, and she’s writing to Laurie that the dirty deed is being done, and Laurie writes back, “so?” And that is like EXACTLY how I feel. If the wife (ex-wife) doesn’t care, I sure as hell will not care. And she’s known him for years, and I’ve known him for like, what, seven weeks?

And all the while the show is encouraging you to build thematic structures of your own, and yea that’s a cool concept for middle school kids playing Minecraft, but it isn’t very inspiring here.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Six – Guest

article-2654110-1EA2AAB600000578-391_634x356

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Spoilers and such.

We get to see another possibly religious event collide with a secular result in this episode of The Leftovers, an episode with Nora kissing dead doppelgangers and stopping conspiracy theorists from taking her name and Wayne sucking the grief out of her AND Nora wanting to be shot in the chest with a gun while wearing a bulletproof vest AND seeing Kevin at the exact same time in court for the exact same reason, a divorce, AND featuring a question on the departed insurance form that gets a 100% response of “yes” until she is cured by Wayne.

All this roundabout summary is to say that The Leftovers is using a pretty big hammer all the time. Would Nora really kiss a constructed cadaver? Oh, she’s on a drug that’s “going to be FDA approved by October.” Many of the characters’ actions, like Jill’s Nerf fire arrow event and Kevin’s dog shooting, seem to be based on the words, “F#$% it.” If you were to really ask me to find the difference between Jill and Kevin, I would say apathy vs. depression. If you were to really ask me to find the difference between Nora and Kevin, I couldn’t tell you. Yet they create shamwow moments and claim it is character, and that’s textbook hitting the carnival hammer really hard. Kevin yells at dry cleaners. Jill steals Jesus. Preacher beats stealer. If The Leftovers wanted to satirize conventional plot, they can’t have this many signature moments and claim it is still coincidence. At some point, we know it’s a show, fellas.

And this review ends up being even more incoherent than the show. Remember when Nora held a dead grenade in her hands? Remember what was written on it? I sure as hell don’t. The sense of value when it comes to scenes is so frayed (what is more relevant, Wayne’s “I don’t give a shit comment,” or her healing Nora?). If it all matters it becomes paranoia. If none of it matters it’s irrelevant. “So, hey man, what’s your story?”

If it is a show attempting to explain modern living in this way, I think it’s going to ultimately fail. You can’t pull the rug out from somebody who wasn’t standing on it to begin with. And if you split the fan base into categories, are you really achieving anything different from Lost? I’m not looking for answers here, I mean I named my series Postmodern Rapture because I’m that guy. But what about questions? “If they get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

And oh my God Nora and Kevin, just do it already. Put a couple intense scenes around their moments and it feels like Kevin should be pulling Nora’s hair in a game of tag at recess. Kevin says, “I’m a mess” and we’re all nodding our heads, but all for different reasons. I thought of “a hot mess express,” in case you were wondering.

But like, woah man, Wayne “heals” Nora into buying the right groceries, and she replaces the paper towels. It’s a great image, the towel stuff, but it kind of gets lost in the gray. Small tool-like style choices get marred by some “major” plot developments. Nora was compelling when she tipped the coffee cup and broke it because at least it was a small detail that had much larger ramifications, not to mention mystery. Here we have some pretty incredible events (spiritual healing, identity theft, WANTING TO GET SHOT IN THE CHEST WITH LOUD MUSIC ON) that are yes, mysterious, but ultimately boring.

You want to see fun suburban mayhem? Give it a shot.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.

Postmodern Rapture – The Leftovers Episode Five – Gladys

article-2654110-1EA2AAB600000578-391_634x356

Colton Royle

Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.

Spoilers on this ride.

Alright, so another episode that starts violently and leaves the rest of our time this week in a slow grind. Gladys’s stoning could be viewed in religious terms with Matt Jamison’s of the Jesus and Thomas conversation. And there is some interesting play between fire, burning, Gladys’s cremation, and the conversation between Laurie and the Guilty Remnant leader over burning in reference to doubt. It’s more ambiguity, and that could be cool, someday.

But is anyone really surprised at the character shifts in this episode? Laurie doubles down in the cult, right after doubting everything, and this after divorce papers are presented. Matt tries harder to invade people’s lives. Liv Tyler decides to join, for real. And Kevin cries into a pillow after yet another existential night episode. It’s not like we weren’t prepared for this.

What we really weren’t prepared for was an offer for Kevin told over the phone to remove the Guilty Remnant from the face of the Earth. Kevin doesn’t talk much, but we can barely hear the other line. A show cannot have both sides of the call with neither making sense, and it played like a bad take. Don’t try good storytelling by making key information obscure.

Kind of like having someone writing, “Neill” on a “doggy bag” and placing it in front of a house without any foreshadowing or directorial stunt pilot maneuvers. I supposed we’re meant to wait until the big reveal episode some time later when we go, “Wow, I had no idea that was Neill,” but just leaving fragments of a story like batons to be picked up later is not a good way to write. In fact, whether it involves way-too-quick flashes in a psychologist session with Kevin, horrifically slow panic attacks with Laurie,  fire nerf gun peer pressures with Jill, or paper bags, most directorial moves on The Leftovers feels intense without earning it. People say things like that all the time, but I mean it: it’s literally impossible to feel their sadness. The people are gone, and it’s been three years.

Okay, so, real quick, more parallels to lack of family ties. Nora and Matt are obviously not having it. Kevin and Laurie getting a divorce, Liv Tyler belongs to no one, Jill will not hug her father while he is in post-drinking sad times. Gladys had no family to mourn for her violent death. Tommy’s phone got broke… I GET IT.

One thing I do enjoy is the occasional dark humor. Last time it was the twins’ funny Jesus drop off, while the alarm this time going off right when he got the phone call for the agent in Washington was a nice touch.

Maybe I’m missing the point, But when I see a sneak peek of the next episode and it involves Nora holding an armed grenade in public, I feel as though someone else missed it.

Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.