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Person of Interest has become an incredibly depressing TV show

I’m a great fan of everything coming out of the JJ Abrams camp (Alias, Fringe, Star Wars, yes even Felicity), and Person of Interest happens to be his most current show. It’s a very reality driven story about how we are all increasingly being watched and perhaps controlled by forces in the shadows (politics, policing, and “positronic” AI… the three POs). The show was first about saving people, but has now in Season 4 become about a battle that our protagonist team has basically lost, forcing them to employ guerrilla strategies to fight against all odds. The result is, I find, so sad and so moving, because we see  pure evil trying to destroy people that appear increasingly good.

Unlike Game of Thrones, which I find self-torturous in wanting to watch episode after episode, I watch Person of Interest with a detached fascination for what the writers are intending to move this show to. I seem to remember that Fringe had a period like that also, but somehow they turned it around. I have enough faith in the Bad Robot people to do the same.

In TV Shows: Homeland

There’s a lot of parallels between Homeland’s season 4 and The Good Wife‘s season 6. Both have had to deal with the deaths of a major character in the last season and are forced to push the show into new directions this season. The Good Wife is succeeding very well at this. For Homeland, it’s too early to tell.

The first two episodes are out and it’s a fast-paced start. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is the “Drone Queen,” in charge of unleashing the least sympathetic force of the US army onto potential terrorists. In a conversation between an ambassador and her aide, its mentioned that the target list has increased from ca. 60 in 2001 to well over 2000 in the show’s current setting. If this feels eerily like reality, it’s because that’s what Homeland does best.

We see a major mistake happen and the beginning of new hatred and violence. We see the politics, the cold-heartedness of a Carrie towards her job and her family — possibly a result of a fairly traumatic relationship — and mysterious pieces being put together. This show feels more like The Wire, because we are now seeing developments on both sides on a  deeper, more group-wide level. Like The Wire, it also feels more like a slice of life than a story told with an ending in mind.

I don’t know what this season will be like, but I do know that Homeland is in my top-5 of shows these last few years. Season 3 was not as good as 2, and 2 not as good as 1, but I do hope that this reboot brings some fresh creative spirit to it.

Lin火 on TV shows: how ‘Friends” was rated 20 years ago

If you wonder whether shows have staying power, don’t listen to the critics.

Life on Seinfeld may be laid back, but its characters always seem to have someplace to go. In Friends the crowd is always around to share their latest personal woes or offer a shoulder to cry on. But who would want advice from these dysfunctional morons, with their obsessive pop-culture references?

 

Lin火 in TV Shows: “The Good Wife: “The Line””

AV Club is a regular read for me when it comes to TV reviews. A few days ago, they reviewed the first episode of The Good Wife’s new season 6. It is one of those shows, as explained in the excerpt below, that manages to be both multi-episode-spanning and procedural all in one. This episode also shows that the show is able to deal with the disruption of a major character leaving quite well.

As I’ve discussed before, one of The Good Wife’s most fascinating characteristics is that in this era of closed-ended, neatly tied-off television dramas, it’s choosing to cast itself in the older mold of open-ended network dramas—those dinosaurs that still do things like plot four-episode arcs and run for 22 weeks of the year. And a big part of network is processing the unpredictable—severed contracts, life changes, football broadcasts, natural disasters. It’s only recently that television drama has offered the seamless, polished escapism of cinema: For almost all of its existence, television has been a medium of the cheap, the slapdash, and the knowing wink.

But having that sprawling playground gives it a lot of play to do something surprising, and The Good Wife often doubles down with something game-changing. This case with Bishop is one of those times. Five years of Mike Colter waiting in the wings, showing up in a sharp suit and tie to argue over custody or navigate around prosecutors, showing up from time to time as a case of the week, to remind us he exists. And now this, where it all comes to a head. The chickens are coming home to roost.

P.S. looking for the link? Clicking on the post title will take you there. All content labeled with the 火 symbol (in Japanese “light”, but also looks like a hip guy walking) will link this way from now on.

火 in TV Shows: “How To Make A Science Fiction TV Show Part 1: Getting The Greenlight”

The show being discussed in this link sounds like a B or C category thing, but it does discuss some elements of the fascinating world of TV writing, which has undergone a significant change this last decade.

Particularly the story engine — what drives and connects the narrative in each episode — seems interesting.

Generally though, I think studio executives are too cynical to simply look at story elements. They want an inbuilt audience and other commercial elements to work. From other sources I also understand that each episode does have to have an arc that supports inserting commercials for instance, ie multiple twists & cliffhangers appropriately timed.

That doesn’t change the idea of writing good material of course, but should be part of the advice given to anyone pitching a TV show, I would think.

火 “Book Excerpt: “Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show” by Tara Bennett”

On the weird advertising-based complexities of screenwriting TV shows. If you can introduce 5-7 twists into one episode or write for HBO, you’ll make it.

In TV Shows: Halt and Catch Fire

I think I get why this show is going to get cancelled. It does not have a pinch of irony in the story (much like another cancelled show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), making it entirely depressing to watch.

The story is about the creation of an IBM clone, back in the 80s. I’m only on episode 4, and I don’t really know what clone they are referring too, but I have heard it is significant. It’s an AMC show, which also hosts Mad Men, a period piece about an advertising agency the 60s. This too is a very well drawn period piece of the budding computer era in the 80s, I enjoy the characters and their backstories, the companies that are being mentioned (IBM, Texas Instruments, Apple, Compaq), and I think the soundtrack is generally great.

However… none of the characters are likable. It’s a trio of them, starting with the main protagonist, a sales man. I don’t know about you, but sales men do not generally make good protagonists. The second is an overly depressed engineer that gets a second chance. Slightly more likable, if the character had any charisma, which he doesn’t. The third is a young genius programmer and an attractive woman, but she just seems too removed from it all. Too smart, to pretty, too destructive… it makes it hard to root for her either.

What Mad Men had, was depth of characters that could laugh at the way they are. It seemed like a serious version of Austin Powers, perhaps because that period is just somewhat ripe in humour, irony, and hope. The 80s, which we all agree featured great music, movies, and important historical events in computing, were also kind of a downer. The midst of Thatcherism, which is perhaps UK only, but a sign of the times, and generally a deflating moment in economic history. Not sure anyone really wants to relive it and that’s why this show will sadly not last very long.

In TV-Shows: The Honourable Woman

Who do you trust?

This brilliant show takes a lot of digestive capability. I tend to watch one episode of New Girl straight after, because it’s just too much to take in. Someone, somewhere called it the non-fantasy version of Game of Thrones and I really, really don’t digest that show well either. They are referring to that feeling of dread that anyone you root for can die at any time.

Here’s the non-spoilery plot. A woman, who as a child experienced her father being assassinated, builds a charitable organisation that wants to lay internet cables into the West Bank and through it bring peace to that region. So far so good, right? Maybe also sounds kind of boring? Of course that same woman, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is deeply paranoid and has some dark history of her own that she has to deal with. She plays the main role, but just like in Game of Throne, you feel like everyone in the show could have a story or has one, even those that do not stick around for too long.

We know from George R.R. Martin that he obsessively slaved over every storyline in his books. The Honourable Woman is written and directed by Hugo Blick, who seems to have had a pretty intensive vision of the story himself, as indicated in this interview. Each of the 7 episodes leading up to the finale, ended with a cliffhanger, making the wait for another week anguishing. So, just like any other good, addictive show.

The problem with Honourable Woman is not with its inherent quality. It’s with the overal trend it follows to pull viewers into pretty dark places. It does not take a PhD to see that this is all related to the general global trend of intensifying economic, military, and planetary pressure. Most people look away when they hear of melting gletsjers, war in Syria, Gaza, or Ukraine, and if they see another beggar in the street.  The obvious escape for the guilt-ridden is a depressing show or perhaps the obvious result is artists throwing people’s morals back in their face with their creations.

It bothers me deeply, but it doesn’t change that this show is ambitous, well-acted, and worth every viewing minute.

火 in TV Shows – Interviews with the Simpsons on the Fresh Air Podcast

Great podcast episode in anticipation of an insanely long 552 ‘The Simpsons’ marathon on FFX. What?

I love the Nancy Cartwright (Bart, Nelson) interview.

I have high expectations of this one. As a big fan of Eva Green (the Bond girl, brilliant in 300 part 2), I heard of this show and only this weekend started watching it. I like TV-shows that are in essence long movies and this feels like one long mystery. A good build-up of character (singular, as the rest of the cast remains shrouded in mystery), combined by a convincing world set in victorian London. I’m intrigued what happens next!

In TV Shows: Building story in Believe

This is not a review of Believe, the show only has three episodes published so far and it’s just too soon to say. Rather it’s about the characters, the storyline, repetition and origins. This text contains SPOILERS!

In episode one, we are introduced to the first mystery. A car crash, an assassin, a girl survives. This girl, protagonist 1, has powers, what they are we don’t quite understand yet. Another character is introduced, the criminal / bad boy / protagonist 2 of the story. They are paired up and the first scene when that happens, the man cries, a fairly quick illustration of how these two characters affect / interact with each other.

There are forces for good and for evil, we find out, the good or Winter’s crew are there to protect the girl and her companion. The evil are there to capture the girl and kill the man. The action in the series’ episodes thus far is guided by the pair running from the bad guys, as well as by seemingly random encounters that allow for both protagonists to reveal their core-values.

Three things are revealed throughout the season: the nature of the girl’s powers, the deeper nature of the relationship between the girl and the man (not only to us, but to them), and the greater purpose of Winter’s good gang vs. the bad guys.

The random encounter provide, as mentioned, a vehicle for revealing more about the characters and also allow for episodic purpose, for lack of a better term. Essentially, they allow the writers to split the story into episodes.

In TV Shows: The End of Glee

What a soap opera, what a guilty pleasure! I have to admit that I only watched about 3 episodes of season one, until taking a long break, and resuming in season 4. The reason being the woman in my life (we need a compromise between my manly and her girly shows). So here I am, being tortured every week with musical styled drama.

I didn’t like the new cast and I marginally preferred the old cast, but there was a clear quality difference between both. Quality of writing, of acting, of singing (?), or a combination of several. The new cast felt like clones of the old ones, you had the rebel, you had the (not quite) overachiever, you had the cheerleader, you had the token black person (sorry to offend), and you had the jock. We missed the token disabled person (again sorry). But none of these characters seemed sincere and any attempt at producing a sensible backstory was abandoned after a while. Mr. Schuster felt like a burned out shell most of the seasons, fighting a system that didn’t like singing (?), and the only refreshing actors remaining at the school were coach Sue Sylvester and her complex sidekick Becky.

Meanwhile there is the Glee equivalent of Melrose Place, set in New York and featuring more and more of the old cast. The actors that were clearly to old to still be in highschool, had to evolve to form a band of friends to survive in the elitist fictional music academy, to start a band, perform on broadway, and have plenty of b****-fights / dramas along the way. Episodes tended to focus on either group, either one of them for the whole episode or a jumping back and forth. A symptom of not knowing the direction to take?

So now we have a “New Direction.” Teacher Schuster is out, as is Sue Sylvester, I would imagine, and the Glee clones as well. All that remains is the old that now truly grasps their destiny as a Melrose Place or Friends remake. The true moments of drama in the last episode came from Will Schuster, who seemed truly deflated as a person. Even the promise of a new direction for him wasn’t enough to drag him fully out of his hole. It felt remarkably authentic, the way I imagine any teacher to feel when they see a group of students graduate.

It really feels like the Glee club had to end right here and there. But since they already rebooted it once, why not try again and see if it works this time, with a bit more focus? The future will tell.

In TV-Shows: True Detective – a different kind of mind**** to Game of Thrones

true-detective-posterThere’s plenty written about the show True Detective. It’s surprising and encouraging how well-received HBO shows are and how well-made as well (an important distinction that I don’t think Netflix has achieved yet). Fine words were, for instance, written on The Atlantic, AV Club, and spoken on the /Filmcast. I was also not aware of some of the short stories that the writer of the show, Nic Pizzolatto, has published previously, and the movies that its director, Cary Fukunaga, had made, including Sin Nombre in 2009 and Jane Eyre in 2011. True Detective currently rates a 9.5 on IMDB.com, in my eyes a pretty much perfect score.

When I first saw the trailer to True Detective, I wasn’t at all sure that I was going to like it. But like with most HBO shows (6 Feet Under comes to mind), the addiction tends to grow. If you like the intermingling of crime and mind**** going on in this series, you may also like Top of the Lake, a New Zealand show following a female detective investigating the disappearance of one child. Both are, in my view, difficult to digest over time, but well worth watching.

True Detective works for me because it’s never what it appears. It works by introducing layers, like an onion, and peeling one away after the other. And much like that onion, each layer results in more drama as well. Tonight’s episode is the final episode, which I haven’t seen and would never want to spoil for you. Nevertheless, I will write about some details that you may not want to read if you are planning to watch this show and haven’t yet.

True Detective follows two detectives that come across a murder. That is layer one, but it is recounted years after to other detectives in an interrogation room, something that becomes another layer over time. Both detectives, played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, have their own back- and ongoing stories (two separate layers). The murder itself turns out to be deeper than previously thought, which is another layer to explore. There is also the mysticism that is revealed throughout, and that may be the the mind**** that I’m referring to must of all. This feeling that none of it matters, them solving the case, them attaining temporary happiness, that human condition that plagues us all.

It may be similar to the feeling I get with Game of Thrones, where it doesn’t matter that we build an affection for a group of characters. Nothing prevents the writer of the show and books to kill them off in a most gruesome manner. True Detective is not like that, but it is still incredibly dark.

Someone mentioned on a recent episode of the /Filmcast podcast, that this is all a manifestation of how we feel about the world today. With so many threats from the planet, the economic crisis, wars, and more, we are becoming increasingly more cynical and hopeless, and these are the offspring of writers channeling that despair. Well, I don’t know if that’s an exact interpretation of what was said, but it’s how I understood it.

All that said, please watch True Detective. I can’t wait for the final and I certainly can’t wait for the next season, who’s characters are still a surprise.

In TV-Shows: Almost Human

Almost Human

Man, I miss good old fashioned noir thriller-esque sci-fi. And this is as good as it gets, at least in the 2010s. Pair a cynical one-legged robot-hating cop  together with a humorist cyborg, add in major conspiracies, episodic mystery, and lots of sci-fi elements, like genetically engineered hot woman and sex-bots, and you get Almost Human. These kind of stories either go nowhere fast or they become better. I’m glad to say that this show is one of the better becoming ones.

It started with a B-movie vibe. Cops that seem too incompetent to be real, a scientist that seems like he has never ever had human contact, and women that are not realistically good looking. The over-arching mystery also seemed too flimsy. But then, a nemesis emerged. And the chemistry between the two protagonists did too. Even the scientist and the unrealistic women seemed more (almost?) human. Drama emerged. And the cool sci-fi stayed.

Thus, right now, my favourite sci-fi show on TV. Recommended!

In TV shows: The Brilliance of Breaking Bad

So I’m here to talk about what makes Breaking Bad great, which is hard to put into words. I can easily say that the final episode was satisfying. I’m not left to wonder about loose ends, we know where we stand in regards to Walt, Skyler, Jesse, Saul, etc. We even know where we stand in terms of Heisenberg, which was quite an accomplishment. If you compare this to the Wire, another crime show, the ending was less satisfying because it’s all a game that happens over and over again. There’s only one Heisenberg.

But what was it that made the storyline work throughout these 5 seasons? Was it the acting, the story lines, the emotional touch stones? This show struggled at the beginning, but it got great during season 3, when Heisenberg became associated with Gus Fring and any clever plots Walter White came up with before to get out of trouble, just went into overdrive. The show got exciting then, because the incredible dangers the characters dealt with, because of the money that Heisenberg was making and the effect this had on his personal life. We had a love-hate relationship with it all, much like you have with an addictive drug.

Season 4 was pure drama and chaos and it was entirely amazing. Season 5 was Breaking Bad’s version of winding down the story, which from as high as Heisenberg rose, was of course a very dramatic way to close story lines off.

Without giving away spoilers, the finale zipped it all up in a neat body bag and left me entirely satisfied with closing that chapter of my life. I don’t need to see more Breaking Bad, but I’m sure glad to have spent time watching it.

In TV Shows: Scandinavian Shows Evaluated

Scandinavian TV shows have always had a particular aesthetic, different from e.g. German shows, not to mention French or British TV shows.Don’t ask me why that is, according to my girlfriend, very talented photographer, it’s the way they frame and film the scenes, but I think there’s a cultural emotional subduableness, subtlety, and design aesthetic, not to mention very good story telling that makes Scandinavian TV shows special. In this piece, I’ll shortly go through some shows worth watching.

The Killing

I think that this show is easily the second most famous one (after Millennium) coming out of Scandinavia. A strong female character, to the point that she doesn’t work well with people, silent and determined to solve the different crime that each season is centred around. The 1st season is obviously the best one, the middle seasons feel like filler to me, but the show ends with a bang. Could not stop watching, it lead to plenty of woollen sweaters around the house as well. Don’t watch the US remake, watch this!

The Bridge

Comes in part out of the team responsible for The Killing. Another strong, but sincerely messed up female protagonist, from Sweden this time (The Killing is Danish), teaming up with a Danish policeman to solve a crime that happened exactly on the intersecting bridge between Sweden & Denmark. Most entertaining is the interplay, the psychological derangement of the female character, the way it is shot (less dark than The Killing). The story itself was not as good as The Killing, but still pretty exciting. Don’t know about the US remake, but this one is worth a watch!

Borgen

Completely different show, a drama with another strong female protagonist (!). This time the focus is a politician’s rise to power and challenges in balancing being a prime minister with being a mother and a wife. Very relevant topic to today’s society, but also compelling to watch. Looking forward to the new season if/when it comes out.

The Ones Who Kill

New show that I started watching, playing in Denmark, another (disturbed) female protagonist who partners up with a profiler to solve pretty gruesome crimes. It’s well-filmed, but sometimes a bit too graphic for my taste. 

Bonus:

Millennium: infamous book and movie trilogy. I liked the Scandinavian film version of it, though this kind of story is better told across a season, rather than 3 movies.

Let The Right One In: thriller about vampires, great movie, more atmospheric than bloody. Liked it a lot.

Insomnia (1997 version): psychological thriller about chasing a killer during the 24 hour daylight that haunts some Scandinavian countries during mid-summer. Very haunting and effective. 

Gus’s tie

My goodness, the final episode of this season’s Breaking Bad was epic. I will not give away any spoilers, but found two tie scenes interesting revolving around Gus Fring, one of the series’ seriously bad guys. In the first scene, he’s seen at work just shutting down. He takes off a clip-on tie. I think it’s meant to symbolise one of several things. A. he’s in the role of a fast food joint owner, wearing a cheap and efficient clip on. Or B. That’s his real persona, cheap and efficient.

In the second scene, Gus is seen adjusting a real tie he wears to the visit of an archenemy. Either this is his real persona or he’s faking being classy in this situation. It’s an interesting question, particularly because it’s such a small detail. At the same time, few people will miss the second tie-adjustment, for reasons I can’t mention.

In TV-Shows: The rules of ‘The Prisoner’

  • Rule 1: You do not escape from the village
  • Rule 2: No. 2 is in charge
  • Rule 3: In the village, you are just a number
  • Rule 4: The red phone is in charge of No. 2
  • Rule 5: If you run, the white ball will probably get you
  • Rule 6: If you don’t get mindf*cked every single day, something is probably wrong
  • Rule 7: No. 2 is replaceable
  • Rule 8: Appearances can deceive, especially those of your fellow prisoners
  • Rule 9: If you reveal your secret, you will be retired
  • Rule 10: Everything is possible, but most improbable things are probably attempts to mindf*ck you.
  • Rule 11: You do not escape from the village

My favourite episode of ‘The Prisoner‘ is the one called “Many happy returns,” in which No. 6 find the village to be completely deserted and escapes. The show, which was made in 1967 and only had 17 episodes, is a classic and has inspired plenty of other science fiction, including ‘Lost’ and ‘Battlestar Gallactica,’ as well as countless of other shows and movies, some of them probably presenting you with the main character waking up to a deserted environment. Every episode presents you with a new opportunity to see No. 6 being tricked into revealing his information, as well as, originally, a new No. 2 to worry about. Every No. 2 has a different personality and maner or dealing with No. 6, and each of them is, equally originally, introduced towards the end of the 3 min. long introduction to the 45 min. show. Slightly different from ‘Lost,’ it’s most apparent cousin, where the intro takes… a second?

The attraction of the show is three-fold, I think. Most obviously, its lead character (and creator), Patrick McGoohan, is a charming hero. Second, it is a battle between human nature and “the system.” And third, that, like in ‘Lost,’ nothing is actually revealed of the plot (or the point), which makes you want to see the next episode and the next.

In Music: The last track of ‘Six Feet Under’

The last track of the show was a beautiful piece of ambiance while the final scenes of the show were shown. So sad! I wrote before how I wondered whether this show, which is about death, desensitised you from the death-experience. I think that it does the opposite, that you become more sensitive to it, but that ignoring it is worse—you have this constant shadow hanging over you, especially when you get older. I didn’t realise that Alan Ball, who also wrote and directed ‘American Beauty,’ had done the same for this show. A marvellous piece of art and I feel privileged to have been allowed to see it (as I feel with many of HBO’s shows).

Enjoy the track!

In TV-Shows: Thoughts on "Six feet under"

My first thought about this show was, what is people’s fascination with death? Then I realised that we are all fascinated with death, which should make anything to do with that topic an instant blockbuster. Of course, the latest show on this topic, “Pushing Daisies,” was just cancelled, so even death can’t save your show all the time.

There are three big themes to “Six feet under.” The first is clearly death. The second is homosexuality. The third is the insanity of the Fisher family, the main focus on this show. The Fisher family runs an undertaking business and one of the members is gay, which is the way that all relates.

Let’s start with death. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about that part. Every episode starts with a death (with the exception of one or three). Some deaths are normal (i.e. of old age), some deaths are odd, some deaths are horrible, some are comical. I’d like to say that watching this show desensitises you to death, but I luckily haven’t been in the position to test that out yet. What I can say is that you get the feeling that death is something rather natural and that we all cope with it somehow.

Let’s continue with homosexuality. There are a lot of gay scenes in this show, as one of the characters comes out of the closet and tries to live a normal life. I think he succeeds, and through it you develop a better understanding of the battle (both in the gay person’s head and in his environment) and feel good when that battle is won.

Let’s finish with the insanity. I’ve thought a lot about it and I think that situations in the show end up becoming insane, because people constantly play off other people. E.g. in an effort to become closer to another man, a woman joins a cult, and insanity follows. Or, because one man finds out he’s dying, but keeps it from his girlfriend, she feels alienated and starts sleeping around, which creates more tension. There’s some seriously “fucked up shit” (a phrase often used in the show), that’s happening, but it can all be explained by reacting to the actions of another person. It kind of feels like no one has control over their own choices, which is a semi-true parody of real life and explains why not everything is nice and logical or orderly.

Kick-ass drama. If you can get past the death-part, it can be enjoyed by all I think.

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