Friday, September 2, 2022

TV Check-In

I've bailed out of Yellowstone and am getting close to bailing on Ozark. You see, I have a requirement of fictional drama: it's got to more or less make sense.

You can't use the characters to hoist plot moves. Quality drama is when plot moves stem organically from the characters (that's a big part of what made "Breaking Bad" and "Saul" so fantastic). "Character-driven". If you wield your characters like puppets to move the plot from Point A to Point B, that's soap opera, not fiction.

Good actors try to "sell it". But if they're smart, you'll have crushed their souls by making their characters - which they sweat bullets to make three-dimensional - two-dimensional cartoons. If the actors are dumb, they'll just keep sayin' lines and emoting for their paycheck. Either way, the result is painful to watch.

I liked Yellowstone. Liked the location, the cinemetography, the vibe. But at a certain point I needed to pause the action and scream at my TV "Not one bit of this makes a lick of sense!"

I'm not talking about interference with my "suspension of disbelief." That's lower-level stuff. That comes from minor but aggregating intimations of off-ness. Yellowstone wasn't that. Yellowstone felt "real", it just didn't come close to making sense. Wasn't even trying to make sense. It was just expensive soap opera.

And now, during my binge viewing of Ozark, Darlene just poisoned her heroin - the heroin whose quality she took great pride in just a few episodes ago - for no discernible reason than that she's just super angry, generally (also: it needed to be poisoned to create conflict for the season's dramatic arc). And even though her husband, Jacob, is sternly upset about it, neither have the faintest notion that angering their Mexican cartel partners is like signing a death warrant. I'm a food critic and I understand this. You guys are heroin producers and haven't gotten the word on that?

The characters keep shifting their personalities and inclinations - needs and desires - to accommodate plot needs (I imagine the actors checking their investment balances at every shooting break to maintain fortitude). I'm watching soap opera. Understand that I'm not using that term in a snotty way. Like I need everything to be Zola or Chekhov or whatever. It's just that this is junk food. You feel like you're eating, but there's zero nourishment so you come away empty. Life's too short - and Peak TV is too plentiful - to come away empty.

In other TV news, I rejoiced a few months ago at the resurgence of Mind-Fuck TV after a very long hiatus (since 70s public television shows like "The Prisoner" and "Steambath"). I was writing about "Severance", but the latest example is "The Rehearsal" with Nathan ("Nathan for You") Fielder, on HBO.

If you didn't watch "Nathan for You", which was great but spotty, I recommend just checking out the highest-rated episodes. Here's a sorted list from IMDB.

"The Rehearsal" is creepy and upsetting, while also funny, which is exactly what Mind-Fuck TV is supposed to be. It's a slow build, and the creepiness and upset only swell (the humor, too), but it's way more profoundly thoughtful than mere cringe programming. It's nutritious. I recommend checking out recap discussion for each episode on Reddit. Just for stuff and connections and callbacks you might have missed.

Re: the Game of Thrones prequel, "House of the Dragon", I am (as is often true) in agreement with Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall, who found it a dryly humorless “calculated piece of brand extension.” Makes you realize how much Dinklage added to the original series.

Sepinwall liked Lord of the Rings prequel "The Rings of Power" a lot better (I haven't started it yet). And he raves over Steve Carrell's straight drama work in Hulu's "The Patient".

Previous TV rundowns in reverse chronological order


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