FX

April 20, 2017

Fandoms and Navigating the Golden Age of Television

Once a month, we have a segment on the podcast, “TV Roundup.” We discuss what we’ve been watching, and most of the time, it’s the same thing. Right around “Game of Thrones” time talk about that, Justin talks “Homeland,” and DJ usually signs the praises of “Mr. Robot” and most recently the resurgence of “Samurai Jack” on Cartoon Network. “Luther” has popped up, as well as “Gotham,” “The Flash,” “Arrow,” the list goes on.

But as many people have pointed out, and continue to remind us; WE’RE LIVING IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION!!!

So this got me thinking; how much is there really to watch in this “golden age?” So I made a list, and the list is quite extensive, and got me thinking; how does one find the time to fulfill all of their TV fandoms while going through a normal life of work, home life, children, watching film, being smarmy on the Internet, and sleeping…maybe.

One of the main reasons why I don’t watch so much TV is the overall time it takes. A film is pretty much one and done, and even that I’ve been having issues getting caught up. Sure, with On Demand and Binge Culture so abundant these days, it’s easier to watch more TV than ever, but is there any one person that just happens to watch everything on TV just to make sure that they can have an actual opinion on everything.

Yes, if you happen to be a professional writer/journalist it’s your job to watch everything and lend your “expert” opinion and create a cute little list of the Top Ten reason why you should be watching said show, or how this show “wins the Internet” or how this new actor/actress on said show is “everything,” or maybe even why you “can’t even” (that’s still a thing right) with a certain episode. The list goes on…

In doing a little research, yes, we research things occasionally on Simplistic Reviews, there are over 20 major networks and/or content providers releasing shows that have some type fandom attached to it. I’m sure I’m leaving quite a few channels or shows from this general list, but to my point, that’s how much is currently out there, TV-wise. HERE is just a brief look at just some I could come up with. Trust me, I’m missing a ton, so put the torches and pitchforks away if I forgot your precious little angst-ridden hipster drama, or anything that might be on CBS. CBS doesn’t exist.

I guess the real question is whether TV can keep up it’s momentum, or will it collapse under the weight of it’s own grand ambition. I’ve mentioned in a previous podcast how I see a quiet decrease in the quality of Netflix’s Marvel TV shows. It’s incredibly hard to keep momentum for so long without people starting to poke holes in the most minor of minor issues, and sure, even I’ve gotten into the act, but the miracle of the Internet and having a platform, even if it’s a small one, is that you’re able to have an opinion.

With the rise of fandom, comes the continued effort by everyone and anyone to stand up for their given fandom. People may argue about the perceived slide in quality of shows, or scoff at the fact that there is another comic book adaptation or the re-boot of a once beloved TV show from the 80s or 90s, but there always seems to be someone defending it, and for the most part, I commend that. Hell, even I’m not one that will write something off right away. At first I thought the “Lethal Weapon” TV show looked interesting, just from a nostalgia perspective. Have I seen an episode, nope.

But this is pretty much my MO with TV. Something might be interesting, but I still won’t waste my time, and if a show gets to a point of it being a chore to watch and show-runners are simply biding their time to get the show to be good again (I’m looking at you “Walking Dead”) I’m out. This is the same for “The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Agents of SHIELD,” seeing a trend here.. However, when a show does enter the zeitgeist of Film Twitter, I am compelled to watch since critics on the Internet are just as bad as cable news and their 24-hour news cycle. It’s pretty much watch, or be left in the dust, which is the vomit-inducing place we are with our Binge Culture. It really does want to make you binge-and-purge.

 So let’s try this; how many shows do you in fact watch, either streaming or on cable or network TV. Do you feel an obligation to watch everything since we’ve been conditioned to think that everything that appears on the TV is important and fantastic? Leave a couple of comments, and/or just tell him I’m an idiot and trying to be a contrarian. Kisses, and good luck on that WGA Strike…

October 8, 2015

Simplistic TV: American Horror Story: Hotel

HOMAGE

American Horror Story: Hotel – Homage

Here’s my history with “American Horror Story;” I like maybe half the season and I just kind of “check out.” I don’t know what it is about the series, but unlike other people, it’s never dug it’s nails into me and made me want to finish off a season. “Freak Show” came pretty close last season, but once they did away with Twisty the Clown, I tuned out. The took away, at least to me, the best past of the show, and aborted it.

This brings me to the newest edition of the “AHS” anthology; “Hotel.” What I’m looking for is a reason to keep checking out this season and keeping it on until the end. If I get what I saw in the first 20 or so minutes in the premier, I think I’ll be happy. Full disclosure, the first 20 minutes scared my wife away who couldn’t watch anymore.

“Hotel” stars the Hotel Cortez, an old hotel in Los Angeles, with a sordid history of murder, mayhem, and of course…ghosts. Most of the standard cast returns from “AHS” past, including Kathy Bates as yet another old coot who has seen too much. Sarah Paulson returns as a weirdo once again. Wes Bently is back too, this time as a cop with a family. Last but not least we have Lady Gaga being introduced as surprise surprise; a weirdo.

You might ask yourself, “Matt, why are you being so dismissive of this season so far?” Well, I’m not, I’m just painting this season in generalizations so far as to not give anything away

Overall, the premier pushed the limits in a lot of ways that even kind of surprised me, but perhaps this is the “Gaga Effect” where limits must be pushed. I think this newest edition to the “AHS” series has a lot of potential since it seems to take a lot from the past, namely the “Murder House” season with enough wacky characters where it will remind you of the latest season “Freak Show.”

Of course the same people will turn in no matter what, but I think there is enough crossover appeal where even curious, or bi-curious, members of the audience might even give this season a try. Me, for one, enjoys the bygone era of old seedy Los Angeles, and to end this, I really hope they decide not to go the “Freak Show” route and include music interludes. So far, so good.

October 23, 2014

Yet Another 31 Nights of Halloween: American Horror Story: Freak Show

FINALLY

AHS: Freak Show – Finally

I would have written this article the week this show premiered, but the more I write reviews about the pilot episodes for shows, the more I realize that that is a pretty flawed review, case in point, my initial take on “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” but there are also times when I’m right, case in point, “The Bridge.” This isn’t about me being right and wrong however, this is about me finally getting a show that I thought I would like, and low and behold, despite a few flaws here and there, I actually enjoy, albeit, I can only enjoy it for one season. “America Horror Story: Freak Show” combines the mythic qualities of the traveling side show, an interesting cast of characters, and of course, one of the creepiest depictions of a clown since Pennywise. I’m finally on the “American Horror Story” bandwagon.

“Freak Show” is essentially the story of murder and mayhem in a small Florida town in the 1950s. The added twist is that Elsa Mars’ Freak Show is in town, making them the prime suspects. Meanwhile, conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler are under investigation for the murder of their mother, but are spirited away by Elsa to join her troupe of freaks. What we find out that no one else knows yet, is that the actual culprit of the murders, or at least most of the murders, is Twisty, a wandering clown who loves magic tricks, juggling, stabbing people with scissors, and abducting children.

The main complaint that a lot of people have about “AHS” is the extreme violence, and radical psycho-sexual aspects of the show. I mean, people, you kind of know what you are getting into when watching a show about depraved and disturbed people; you are going to see some crazy sh*t, it’s just the way it is. Growing up watching horror my whole life, there is very little that can disturb me, but I guess since the (mainstream) horror genre has, for all intensive purposes, been de-balled, it’s all the more shocking to see shocking things on TV. But I mean this is FX, their motto is literally “No Limits.” Where is the surprise here people?

If you are a seasoned “AHS” vet, there are plenty of actors that you’ll recognize from previous seasons, including Sarah Paulson, who I think steals the show as the conjoined Tattler twins, Jessica Lange, who is going all out in her final season of “AHS” as Elsa Mars, and Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling, the Lobster Boy, who has probably already given a few ladies a new idea to try in the bedroom. One of the bigger additions to the cast, no pun intended, is Michael Chiklis, who plays circus strongman, Dell Toledo. Being a huge fan of “The Shield” it’s great to see Chiklis back on a network that gave him his most well known character, Vic Mackey. What gives the show even more cred is the use of actual “freaks” in the cast.

In an ultra-PC world that is so sensitive about the perceived needs and wants of those less fortunate, it’s an interesting idea to use actual sideshow performers as many people I’m sure see this as a form of exploitation. When Todd Browning’s “Freaks” was released in 1932, the uproar was unprecedented. Normally people would have to go to an actual circus freak show to see this assortment of oddities, but Browning put it right in everyone’s face on the silver screen. Over 80 years later, we are seeing the same thing on Hulu, VOD, and live on Wednesday night right now FX. The other humorous thing is that you would think that people would be up-in-arms about the exploitation of real “freaks” on a show, but the real backlash is from actual clowns about the portrayal of Twisty the Clown. Zeitgeist of the times is most certainly at its funniest when people are worked up more about clowns than what people used to find reprehensible nearly a century ago.

While I generally enjoy “Freak Show” so far, there are a few things that I find simply off-putting, namely the misguided and just plain weird musical numbers. Not knowing much going into this season, the first musical number to me sounded natural and fit in with the era the show was working within. However, the next musical number, which was a re-working of the Fiona Apple “classic,” “Criminal” complete with a mosh put and a midget crowd surfing…..yeah. I assume this will be a theme throughout this series, and it really takes me out of the moment. Combining the “Glee” elements with this show just seems like pandering to a few fans.

Where this season will go, and how far it will go, intrigues me to no end. The characters that are being created are rich and seem to have a lot of history to tell and the simple contrast of peaceful suburban life in the 1950s being disrupted by a serial-killing clown and a troupe of carnies creates a mood of dread and excitement.

Fun Fact: In 1991, Jim Rose Circus, a modern day Freak Show, plays the Lollapalooza Festival, starting a new wave of performers and resurgence of interest in the genre.

April 23, 2014

Simply TV: Fargo on FX

TONE

Fargo – Tone

Some movies should just be left alone…for the most part. I’m not a huge fan of taking films and trying to shrink them down to the small screen. It’s like trying to find sense in a Pauly Shore movie (thanks Clueless). See examples like, ironically, “Clueless” and “Blade: The TV Series” for prime examples of bad adaptations. You could imagine my reservations for “Fargo” the new series on FX.  I mean, how could you add on, or create a show, to a film that pretty much had a definitive ending that needed no more explanation. Well, in the case of “Fargo” I stand corrected, and I’m excited to see what direction this newest FX offering goes into.

Whereas the film version of “Fargo” took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota this version takes place in the small town of Bemidji, Minnesota. A mysterious drifter named Lorne Malvo has arrived in town and immediately begins to wreak havoc. Meanwhile, a milquetoast insurance broker named Lester Nygaard is having a hard time dealing with a demanding wife, family members that have no respect for him, and an old high school bully that loves to remind him that he slept with his wife before they were married. A chance encounter with Malvo in a hospital turns Lester’s world upside down and sets off a chain of events that leave behind quite a few dead bodies….and that’s only the first episode.

“Fargo” is developed by Noah Hawley, who had success as a writer on “Bones” but also put out clunkers like “The Unusuals” and “My Generation.” While I can’t say such for his two failed TV experiments, the name recognition of “Fargo” and the Coen Brothers on as Executive Producers certainly gives this series name recognition, and I haven’t even gotten to the show’s lead actors yet.

It’s easy to forget that Billy Bob Thornton is a really good actor, and when given a role like Malvo in “Fargo” you can see a twinkle in his eye. I liken Thornton as Malvo to Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight;” he is truly an agent of chaos. He’s a cold, calculating, yet charming drifter who befriends a down on his luck Martin Freeman, who plays Lester Nygaard. I guess my best summation of Malvo would be a combination of The Joker, Anton Chigurh and maybe throw in a little Rust Chole from “True Detective.” The great cast also includes Colin Hanks and Bob Odenkirk in supporting roles.

The one thing that “Fargo” might lack at this time is a strong female lead. I see potential in Allison Tolman, who plays the lone female police officer in the series, Molly Solverson, but will she be able to match Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson? There are quite a few similarities, including their commitment to police work and family, but Tolman has extra motivation in the series which I think will add that extra dimension to her character.  

Despite my early reservation for “Fargo” I see a very bright future for the series. Whether FX decides to continue after the initial 10-episodes, I would love to see either an “American Horror Story” type anthology direction for the series where we meet new hitmen like Malvo from around the Midwest, and hopefully some tie-in’s with the film, and perhaps situating the show as somewhat of a prequel. Either way, “Fargo” has legs, and in the deft hands of FX, I believe it will be a series that gets better and better.

Fun Fact:The tallest building in Fargo, North Dakota is the Radisson Hotel, standing at over 206 feet and built in 1985.

July 12, 2013

(Turn on the TV) The Bridge

AGAIN

The Bridge – Again

FX is known for putting out fantastic programming.  Just look at the catalog; “The Shield,” “Justified,” “American Horror Story,” “Louie,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Of course I’m missing a few, including “Archer” but you look at their lineup either currently or in the past, and you see the quality.  This brings me to FX’s newest show “The Bridge” a look at crime on the border of Texas and Mexico.  After watching the pilot I was left thinking, “again?”

“The Bridge” is based on the Swedish TV series “Bron” which deals with crime on the Denmark-Sweden border.  Who’d of thought; crime in Denmark and and Sweden, I thought that only happened in Steig Larsson novels.  In this American version, two cops, Diane Kruger, who is ironically German, and Demian Bichir, who is in fact Mexican, so that helps, both find a body on the US-Mexico border.  It’s discovered that the body was cut in half and comprised of two different bodies.  Intrigued?

Moving from the plot aspects to the character aspects for a second, I just want to comment on the character Sonya Cross, or North, depending where you read her character’s name from.  Now this is the third show in the past year where the creators decided to go the now-cliched detective route, namely giving the main detective symptoms of Aspergers.  We’ve had “Sherlock” on the BBC, “Hannibal” on NBC, and now “The Bridge” on FX.  There used to be an age where cops or detectives had the cliche of having a gruff exterior with a soft interior, usually involving “a past event” that shaped their character, but now we are stuck with detectives and cops who have some sort of autism.  It was cute the first time, but personally I think it’s time find a new cliche.

Being that the pilot was an “extended pilot” (clocking in at just over 90 minutes as opposed to your standard 60 minute program) we get some extra time with our main characters and our “killer.”  Yet, I didn’t really feel any type of investment with either North or her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz.  The stakes seem higher for Ruiz who is balancing both personal and professional business in one of the most corrupt cities in Mexico, whereas the only thing we know about North is that she is a little off.

Stylistically, if you took the film “Savages” and gave it the Michael Mann treatment, that’s exactly how “The Bridge” looks, which means it looks great.  I would even say that it even has a little “No Country For Old Man” vibe with the look and feel of the desert landscapes.  They always say imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Overall, “The Bridge” has potential, but in a TV landscape with every cop and procedural show trying to one-up the other when it comes to violence, gory, and autistic detectives, where does this show fit?  Being it’s on FX, the pedigree is there, but it’s where they decide to go with the characters that really matters.  If I want to see gory murders and detectives with problems I’ll stick with “Hannibal.”

Fun Fact:  According to The International Boundary and Water Commission, the US-Mexico border is approximately 1.954 miles long.

September 8, 2012

Simplistic TV: Longmire

GENERIC

Do you want to see a terrific cable television show that is a modern day western starring a cowboy hat wearing, no nonsense lawman who is based on a character from a best selling novel?  Yeah?  Then watch Justified on FX.  Do you want to see a cable television show that has all those same attributes, but only manages to come off as a cheaper alternative?  Yeah?  Really??  Then watch Longmire.  Longmire, a freshman show on A&E, just exudes that feeling you had when you were 10 years old and your parents bought you the GENERIC Apple Dapples instead of the name brand Apple Jacks.  And while I admit to having a personal bias of favoritism toward Justified, there is no question that Longmire, as a whole, is simply just plain.

The cast and their performances are pretty plain as well.  Katee Sackhoff, most known from Fox’s 24 and SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica, is the lone bright spot on the show.  Sackhoff seems to always bring to her characters something captivating and real.  However, she is only a costar here.  The titular role of Longmire is played by Robert Taylor.  You know, the guy from that thing with the other guy…no?  Okay, yeah, I don’t know him from anything other than his role as Agent Jones in The Matrix.  And his personality is about the same here.  To be a star of a western your main character has to be a little fun.  He can be dry and badass but still wink at the camera a bit with his coolness.  Eastwood got this.  Timothy Olyphant gets this.  Taylor doesn’t.

What makes a western feel like a western is not just that it takes place out west.  As I’ve said before, westerns are mythical.  They are fairy tales about rich characters stuck in extraordinary situations facing off with one another.  They possess style and fun and don’t ever take themselves completely seriously.  That’s why Inglourious Basterds feels like a western.  Why The Way Of The Gun feels like a western.  Serenity, No Country For Old Men, Justified…they all give off that air of western.  But Longmire lacks style, rich characters, and the friction of a great face off.  Its just a very dry police procedural based in a western town.  It tries to copy the atmosphere and the gimmick of Justified, but forgets it’s most important quality.  The magic.  Kick your boots up, watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

July 20, 2012

Justified

CHARACTER

Elmore Leonard has made a career out of creating great characters.  So much so, they tend to pop back up again in other stories and films from time to time.  This cross film character appearance thing Marvel is doing with their superheroes…it was done before with Ray Nicolette in Out Of Sight & Jackie Brown.  That said, two of Leonard’s characters get more airplay than the rest.  Karen Sisco of the previously mentioned Out Of Sight and Raylan Givens.  Givens made his first appearance in a tv movie based on the Elmore Leonard book called Pronto.  He then made his reappearance on his own show Justified.

So, what makes Raylan special?  The same thing that makes the show special.  He has CHARACTER.  From his trademark cowboy hat and southern charm, to his always simmering rage and quick trigger finger.  Played brilliantly by Timothy Olyphant, The Deputy US Marshall of Harlan County is layered with CHARACTER.  But he’s just the anchor of the show.  Justified, in it’s brief stint on tv has become the show to watch if you want to see uber interesting characters and interesting performances to boot.  It might be the only show I can remember seeing where the hero’s arch nemesis is probably just as beloved as the hero himself.  That arch nemesis being Boyd Crowder.  Brought to life by Walton Goggins, Boyd Crowder is the Joker to Raylan’s Batman.  However, you respect and love his wit, his brains, and his rapport with Raylan.  The character was supposed to die in the pilot but was so good they made him a staple on the show.  Raylan and Boyd’s relationship is the life blood of Justified.   
Justified at its core is just a modern day Western set in a country town.  But the plot of the show isn’t what makes it great.  Its the placement of the amazing CHARACTERS in different situations and seeing how they react to one another.  One moment Raylan or Boyd or Dickie Bennett or Wynn Duffy or Robert Quarles or Limehouse could be smiling and laughing with you.  Then, at the drop of a hat, shoot a dozen holes right through your chest.  Its a CHARACTER driven show that is easily my favorite show on tv right now. You won’t be able to watch just one episode.  Go ahead.  Watch one…then tell me I’m wrong. 
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