Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

tv Archive

Wednesday

21

December 2016

1

COMMENTS

Rectify Goes Out On Its Own Terms

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

The question of Daniel Holden’s innocence has always been Rectify’s low hanging fruit. If Sundance’s first original drama aired on network TV, the ads every week would feature variations of “did he do it?” along with some gripping music and a voiceover, but creator Ray McKinnon never made that the focal point of his masterpiece. In the week leading up to Rectify’s finale, I got the sense that we weren’t going to get any definitive closure. The four seasons we spent with Daniel remind us that life doesn’t work like that. Thankfully, the finale didn’t tell us anything different.

It’s easy to forget that the entirety of the show takes places over a few short months. The circumstances surrounding Daniel’s life barely change over the course of the series. He’s on the road to recovery and probable exoneration, but that’s about it thirty episodes later. Rectify’s pacing is a true marvel, moving at a glacier slow speed but with such precision that it’s easy to forget just how little time has passed, though for a show about a man who spent nineteen yeas in solitary confinement, it feels oddly fitting.

Part of the beauty of Rectify is that we’ll never know if Daniel really did it or not. The show supplied enough details to suggest Chris Nelms killed Hanna Dean, but never fully lets its lead off the hook. Daniel himself claimed to not remember in the season opener, understandable considering he was on mushrooms that night. Most shows would be ripped apart for not definitively revealing the killer, but Rectify managed to frame its narrative so that it almost would have been a cop out to supply the answer.

That’s also really not what Rectify was ever about. As Daniel put it in the finale, an exoneration would be only good for an occasional visit home, plus any future Google searches by artsy companions. He won’t get his years back. Some people in Paulie will always think he did it. Rectify never tried to trick its audience into thinking otherwise.

I didn’t think the season finale was the best episode of the season. I’m glad it didn’t try to be. There were so many deeply moving scenes throughout the season that you almost couldn’t imagine that there were any heartstrings left to tug. Of course Rectify managed to find a few, but the goodbyes offered in the final episode ended on a happier note than what we’ve come to expect from the show over the years.

Rectify’s conclusion had all the makings of a proper TV finale set through the lens of one of the most unique shows ever to air. We got to see familiar faces one last time, without the kind of shock scene that would have felt out of place. The best TV finales are the ones that remind you why you loved the show to begin with. The final dream sequence offered the only kind of conclusion Rectify could offer, bringing the show to an end knowing full well that Daniel Holden’s story is far from over.

Few shows demonstrate such mastery of the craft. Like The Wire before it, Rectify won no major awards and never achieved a sizable following while it was on the air. Both are fairly unwelcoming in their brutally honest deliveries, which rarely spare punches to their characters. Hopefully history will rectify Rectify’s standing in this so-called “golden age of television,” but until then we can rest easy knowing what a fantastic piece of art we got to enjoy.

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Tuesday

12

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

Fear The Walking Dead and the Crisis of Character

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As someone who considers himself a casual fan of The Walking Dead, I looked forward to Fear the Walking Dead for two reasons. The cast of the flagship show has grown too large and the plot too convoluted for a show that only produces sixteen episodes a year. Fear offered a simpler approach to the zombie genre.

The trouble with a zombie show that focuses more on character than action is that it needs to actually have compelling characters. For Fear, this shouldn’t inherently be a problem as it doesn’t need to allocate screen time to dozens of characters, but having time to build relationships with characters doesn’t necessarily make them likable or even compelling.

The first episode of Fear offered next to nothing positive for anyone other than perhaps the diehard fans who stick around for Talking Dead. Only two characters stood out as remotely interesting, Salazar and Strand, with two more, Madison and Nick, that I only care about because I like the actors who play them (Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane, the son of Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane).

Fear fails because it makes the wrong assumption that its characters have to be tethered to a Rick-like sense of altruism that’s more than a little tired six years into the franchise. I assume someone involved with the creative felt the need to have Madison express a desire to help the refugees on the boat as The Abigail sailed on. As new a show as Fear is, we’re past that kind of nonsense, which benefits Strand as a character who thinks logically. Fear makes the mistake of pitting someone against Strand’s position, which might be natural as far as storylines go, but we don’t need that and more importantly, we don’t want it.

If the reports that this season will spend much of its time on water are to be believed, Fear’s season two is shaping up to look at lot like Herschel’s farm. In other words, boring. The boat might be more fun than the farm, but we don’t have Rick, Glen, Dale, Shane, Carol, Maggie, or T-Dog to keep us entertained. The hints of a Strand/Madison/Salazar conflict offer a flicker of hope for this season, but the downside of that is that it stands to reason that one of them will die, leaving us short a compelling character.

Granted, it seems unfair to completely write off the show. Season six of TWD bears little resemblance to season two. The only problem is that season two wasn’t really bad on its own. It dragged on at times and pales in comparison to every other season, but it wasn’t terrible TV. Beyond that, it always had the comics to show us that better times were just on the horizon.

Here, I don’t know. I’m not sure how much I care. Water zombies are fun, but plodding melodrama can be better found elsewhere. If Fear wants to be a character centric drama, it better work on its characters who for the most part, have less interesting personalities than the creatures chasing them around.

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Monday

17

August 2015

0

COMMENTS

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp Succeeds Where Arrested Development Failed

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As someone who enjoyed Wet Hot American Summer, but not to the same degree as much of its cult fanbase, I was skeptical of how the Netflix prequel series was going to turn out. It’s highly doubtful that this would’ve been made had cast members like Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Paul Rudd not become huge stars fourteen years down the road, but that also presents a problem. Huge stars typically don’t have much time for projects like these.

This was the problem with Arrested Development’s fourth season. Its cast was busy, so the show filmed around them which didn’t really work that well. It’s hard to recapture the magic when half the people who helped make it in the first pace are only in it for two seconds and rarely at the same time.

WHAS: FDOC had a couple things going for it right from the start. Creators David Wain and Michael Showalter were obviously locks for every episode, but the series benefitted from the fact that a good chunk of the cast hadn’t necessarily gone on to “bigger better things.” In actors like Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino’s case, they were pretty much doing the same sort of stuff of Comedy Central and Adult Swim.

Which isn’t to say that WHAS: FDOC solely relied on cast members that weren’t appearing in blockbuster films. Rudd, Poehler and Elizabeth Banks have ample amounts of screen time. Mad Men’s John Slattery was brought on to aid Poehler’s scenes in cases where Cooper wasn’t available and you don’t necessarily feel like anyone’s missing.

The series also added numerous big stars to its cast. In addition to Slattery, Jon Hamm, Jason Scharztman, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Josh Charles, Jordan Peele, and Michael Cera aid the show tremendously, giving the viewer the idea that this isn’t merely a harebrained scheme that Wain and Showalter managed to trick Netflix into funding. WHAS isn’t strictly back for nostalgic value, it also has something new to bring to the table.

It’s hard to write this sentence about WHAS, but much of the humor in the series is actually pretty subtle. It’s filled with quotable moments, but the metahumor is what really sucked me in. Most of the cast looks phenomenal, but this is a prequel starring a cast that’s now a decade and a half older than when the first was made. Some of them do look pretty old, which definitely plays into the wackiness of the series as a whole. A lot has changed and yet much of it looks the same.

Is it accessible for people who weren’t fans of the original film? Probably not, but it earns points for not trying to be. The show managed to have a pretty A list cast for a Netflix mini-series based off a box office bomb. I think it’s doing just fine.

This could have been really terrible, which isn’t to say that it hits its mark 100% of the time. The show does fall flat a little bit in the middle episodes, but it’s never awful, unless you hated the show to begin with.

We’re going to see a lot of revivals in the coming months. Even Coach is coming back. Many of these will suck, like Arrested Development’s fourth season and for many, that will tarnish the legacy of the source material.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp chose not to rest on its laurels. It’s a worthy successor that enhances one’s enjoyment of the original in many ways. I never went to summer camp, but I hope most of them are exactly like Camp Firewood, talking cans of vegetables and all.

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Sunday

30

November 2014

0

COMMENTS

Should The Walking Dead Revisit Its Seasonal Episode Count?

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The Walking Dead will air its “season finale” tonight. The quotation marks are there to highlight the somewhat grey area surrounding that phrase. While the show comes back in February, AMC is advertising this as a finale and past seasons have showed us that this show puts more stock in providing a noteworthy midseason break than many other shows that use the same practice.

The rationale behind splitting up a season into two parts is clear. It’s a common way for cable shows to expand their episode counts beyond the standard thirteen. In the case of The Walking Dead, it also allows the show to keep plotlines fresh. Season two was the only one to use a thirteen-episode model. The group’s elongated stay at Herschel’s farm provided plenty of reasons why this isn’t the greatest idea.

Problem is that the show has changed quite a bit since then beyond just the cast changes, though it’s worth noting that only seven of the characters from season two are still alive. This isn’t a show where the characters stay in one place for very long anymore. It’s also followed Lost’s later season model in keeping its ensemble cast separated into groups for large periods of time.

This makes splitting up the seasons into eight episode blocks problematic. There is a ton of stuff going on and its happening to tons of characters. Remember how little screen time T-Dog and Beth got back when everyone was just hanging out on the farm? The cast has grown exponentially since then while the death count has slowed down, leaving the show with the task of figuring out what to do with all its characters.

The simple answer? Expand the episode count to twenty.

This is neither unprecedented nor ridiculous in nature. The SyFy Channel’s old Sci-Fi Friday block of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica used this model to great success. None of these shows were quite the phenomenon that The Walking Dead is either. This show is AMC’s cash cow, especially with Breaking Bad over and Mad Men on its way out. There’s nothing really standing in the way of more episodes.

You can make the argument that The Walking Dead is the most popular cable show of all time. Its ratings crush most of what’s on network TV and that doesn’t take in harder to quantify numbers like Twitter traffic and Netflix views. It may not be a contender in many awards shows, but it has what matters most, the interest of the people.

We can use the critical complaints to examine why a switch would be a good idea from a storyline perspective. Splitting up the season the way The Walking Dead does creates the need for an extra finale and primer, which also affects episode progression. The constant rise/fall dynamic makes for great suspense and anticipation, but it also takes precious screen time away from advancing the plot. This problem is exacerbated by extreme character centric episodes that leave out the bulk of the cast.

Which is probably the point. Urgency exists mostly in the eyes of the characters. For the show itself, it’s not really headed in a specific direction. Since the prison, the characters have been roaming, but so has the plot. That’s really all it can do.

If you look at the last three eight episode blocks, you see a pattern. The first episode wraps up the cliffhanger and there’s at least two episodes dedicated to very specific character studies that leave out the majority of the cast. Excluding the finale, that leaves four episodes to get the plot forward before it needs to blow things up again (sometimes literally). For a show with such a large cast, that’s not enough time at all.

Expanding the episode count would make Beth or Governor centric type episodes easier to stomach. Its easy to see why the show likes these types of episodes, but this isn’t the type of show that can afford to toss episodes away on non-essential characters. Adding more episodes lets the show have its cake and eat it too, with plenty of filler.

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