Television! I dig how we don't have seasons any more. New stuff drops at more or less unexpected times, and people go with the flow. Here are a few random thoughts on what I'm watching now. Each show should be treated as containing MEGA SPOILERS.
THE INCREASINGLY POOR DECISIONS OF TODD MARGARET
This is the funniest thing I've seen in years. Well, at least it's made me laugh harder than anything else. I'm not always proud of myself for laughing.
However much I might try, I can't help enjoying David Cross in everything he does. Mr. Show is still one of my all-time favorites, and his Tobias Funke was one of many brilliant aspects of Arrested Development. His standup can be abrasive, but his enemies are my enemies, so that generally works out all right.
Here, Cross is at his absolute peak. He absorbs and projects all the unpleasant aspects of unpleasant characters that he's played. And he does it all through the focused prism of contemporary British discomfort comedy. Like the original version of The Office, many scenes make you cringe, contorting in agony at the horrible things that he does.
This seems to be a relatively common character type these days: the utter incompetent. I've been trying to get a bead on David's variation. Some incompetents, like Ricky Gervais's David Brent, are utterly un-self-aware. They are completely convinced of their excellence, and cling to that belief with psychotic devotion no matter how much evidence to the contrary comes their way. Others, like Steve Carrell's Michael Scott, seem to be subconsciously aware of their defects, and constantly fight against acknowledging them; instead they put out an incredible amount of effort in an attempt to project the image they wish to have.
I think Todd Margaret is more of the latter. I'm pretty sure that there's a kernel somewhere, buried deep, deep inside him, that understands how badly he's messed everything up; yet, his higher brain won't allow him to admit any weakness, and so he plunges ever further into the void.
Wil Arnett is a hoot, too. His affect closely resembles that of Gob, but his id is so over-the-top that he makes Gob seem like a monk.
What I've been digging in the last few episodes is how it's gradually becoming clear that there's an actual story taking place here, not just a setup to a series of incredible gags. Recent example: in the last episode, Todd shows up to work, totally dejected and announcing that he'll quit. Dave tries to talk him out of it, but he's set. Then, a short while later, he gets a phone call ordering Thunder Muscle, and he decides to stay. Well... Dave was furiously texting on his mobile while he was trying to convince Todd to stay. It took a while for me to connect the dots, but it seems clear that Dave is angling to keep Todd in his position. Why? I'm sure we'll find out in the second season. My immediate guess is that he's in cahoots with the Turks, and they need him to stay around as a fall guy. Speaking of which, what ARE the Turks up to? They are so obviously terrorists, that they must actually be something else. We'll get a big reveal at some point and find out that they're actually... well, I have no idea. Can't wait to find out!
Man, the humor is all over the map on this one. The discomfort humor is a huge aspect: Todd says something incredibly inappropriate and everyone else reacts. A lot of humor is fish-out-of-water stuff, but it feels incredibly fresh. I choked during the scene where Todd tries to bribe a government official to procure a liquor license. Other humor is just out-and-out dirty... again, I'm not proud of myself for laughing, but neither can I argue with results. (Thinking here about, for example, Todd explaining how he got the cut on his forehead, or Alice's drapes for the kitchen - "Oh, that's her baby's blood.") Finally, several episodes close with go-for-broke slapstick. Watching grown men fall down and hurt themselves isn't high art, but it's a proven means for getting results.
Once again, the British smack us around when it comes to making comedy. And this time one of our own gets to share in the credit! Huzzah!
BORED TO DEATH
Okay, to be fair, there is plenty of good American comedy around. I found out about this show on NPR, caught part of it during a trip to New York (thanks, Ross!), got caught up on the first season, and now am hooked.
It's unique. Fresh. I like the voices of all the characters. They're so self-aware, and at the same time so ridiculous. The relationships are amazing. And man, this show has the best run of guest stars that I can remember.
I also get a kick out of all the pot humor. Again, I can't claim to be proud of this, but hey, if it makes me laugh, I won't complain.
THE VENTURE BROTHERS
I think this season is done? Or almost done? It's been awesome, and not just because Brock is now firmly back in the action. Even their side-shows and gimmicks are terrific. There was a great set of episodes on Hank and Dean's summer vacations. All the mythology around viceing and henching continues to pay huge dividends. We only catch a glimpse of King Gorilla, I think in two episodes this season, but it carries along an intriguing plot line that has spanned seasons. This show continues to grow more remarkable.
The live show entertained me! And so have the others. I'm not as enthralled by the show as I have been before, but it consistently delivers good laughs.
Not so funny, huh? It's good, though. As of this moment, I think I'm enjoying Season Five more than anything since the second season. It could still turn - I had very high hopes at the start of season three, after all - but so far it's cruising along well.
Writing about this show, I'm realizing that it's really about sets of relationships. I think the strength of the show depends on how interesting those relationships are. This season has some winners and some losers.
The main one driving things for me is Dexter/Harrison. I don't think I've seen anything like it before, on television or in the movies. The combination of tenderness, affection, and raw honesty would feel completely wholesome... except that this is Dexter, and just how should we feel that he talks about his work with his infant son? Watching Dexter watch Harrison really tugs at the heartstrings. He desperately wants Harrison to escape the path that he followed; and, at the same time, he's ready to support him if he starts down it. "Did... did he just say 'die-die'?"
Dexter/Lumen: Even this far into the season, I still can't decide what to make of this one. I really like the idea, and I can't decide whether Lumen annoys me or not. It seems like they're returning to the early thrust of season 3, of finally giving Dexter a peer, an adult who can share in those very personal moments with him. But Lumen is totally different from Miguel Prado. She's vulnerable where Miguel was strong; she avenges on her own behalf where Miguel punished for a greater cause. Lurking behind all this is the fact that, well, she's a good-looking woman and Dexter recently became available. I'm very curious whether the writers go ahead and make them partner up. There was a great line in last week's episode: "This feels just like my senior prom." Good to see that Dexter is as unsure about the situation as we are.
Deb/Quin: Meh. The one nice thing about this is that Deb is driving a relationship; I've enjoyed watching her grow in confidence throughout the show's run. Still, I don't much care for Quin. It's really obvious that this relationship will explode like all of Deb's other ones. How can she stand it?
Angel/LaGuerta: Uber-meh. I really hate this subplot, they should just kill it off. Watching married people bicker isn't "edgy" or "real," it's just dull and annoying.
Oh, yeah, the actual plot: man, that Santa Muerte stuff is really over-the-top. I love it! It's hard to believe that Dexter can still shock after five seasons, but man, they've really raised the bar there.
I'm kind of surprised that the investigation into Rita's death has faded away. I'm guessing that it will come back, along with Quin's prodding and Lumen's presence, into a swirling maelstrom of complications. It seems like each season weaves a web for Dexter, and the last few episodes are devoted to him desperately trying to get out before it closes in on him.
I have a hunch that Esther and Cody are gone for good. It would be nice to see them again, though. Especially Cody.
Matthews is boring. "Blah, blah. Solve this case. Why haven't you solved it yet? Talk to the media. Don't use any resources. I'm a mean white man putting down two Latinos." I'm totally cool with having a villain within the department, but for gosh sakes, grow some stones and actually BE a villain, don't just complain about your subordinates.
I'm actually more interested in the Santa Muerte plot than what seems to be the main plot, Lumen's torturers. That may change as the season progresses. I don't see how those two could be related now, but I wouldn't mind if the writers found a way to link them.
THE WALKING DEAD
Holy cow... a zombie TV show? For real?
I thought the pilot was incredible. The second episode was good. I realized that the dialog was annoying me, and then I realized that the pilot had contained very little dialog, and now I'm worried that people will talk more and more and I'll like it less and less.
Still. That atmosphere is just amazing. I really dig that the emphasis is on the post-apocalyptic landscape; zombies are a feature of that landscape, but they don't define it. The images of a hollow Atlanta are just chilling.
Oh, and I usually don't talk (or, really, think) much about graphic effects on TV shows, but the ones here are incredibly well-done. That zombie crawling through the grass in the pilot? Ew! Awesome! The crowd scenes in Atlanta seem movie-quality. And they've consistently nailed the freshly dilapidated look of the world they've created.
Those are the highlights. I'm less devoted to the characters... but, again, we're only in the second episode, and I'm sure they'll grow on me. The main guy (sorry, I haven't learned names yet - the cop) is decent but not real expressive. The woman in the refugee camp may be my favorite so far - we don't know her story yet, or anyone's, but there are enough hints there to make her seem really interesting.
I hope this doesn't sound too macabre, but I hope that they start killing off characters. Not because I particularly dislike them (other than the racist), but because that's what you do in zombie movies. They've created great tension and fear so far, but if they want to sustain that over the run of a television show, they need to establish that people are not safe, and that will include killing (or turning) major characters.
Mmmm.... I think that's it for now. I'm not currently following House; last season seemed to end on a decent note, and I figured I'd take a break for a bit. When I need my Hugh Laurie fix, it'll be nice to have a whole season to run through. Oh, and if you haven't already done so, check out "Archer" - it's really excellent.