Saturday, March 15, 2014

If you aren't watching Banshee, you should be

Banshee is a terrific, well conceived show on Cinemax.

SPOILER ALERT: Some info about both seasons is revealed here. It is not a pure review, so there aren't many, and you can probably read this if you haven't seen the show yet. (Hopefully it will get you to watch it). But there are some general details about characters and plot that are unavoidable. Also, it is definitely an R-rated type show, so if you aren't about that...)

If you heard Friday's Blitz, you heard Matt Rauch, who plays Clay Burton on the show, a delightfully creepy, sinister Tom Hagen to Ulrich Thomsen's Michael Corleone.

The show is unique in that it features a cast of characters that are complex, full of secrets and not afraid to cross the line. But with each of them there is a sort of nobility -- a code -- that makes them likeable.

A sheriff can be a complete phony and a master thief, yet you love the character and root for him.

An Amish mob boss who kills at the drop of a hat and is on the verge of committing incest might be he most compelling character on the show.

And that's just two of the remarkably crafted characters. Show creators Jonathan Tropper and David Shickler have done a masterful job of storytelling, but the characters themselves are the true gems of this show. (They have also done a fantastic job of casting. Other than solid character actors Matt Servitto, Frankie Faison and Thomsen, most of them are newcomers, and all are wonderful actors. Rauch is terrific, as is Hoon Lee -- whose character Job is my favorite on the show -- and the delightfully sexy Lili Simmons, who plays Rebecca. She also played Beth in True Detective).

All of the characters -- no matter what their flaws -- have a base code that inexorably links them, whether they are at odds or on the same side. It revolves around family, and a deep seated need to protect that. In this case, there is both natural family and earned/surrogate family, and the same code exists between both. I believe it is this base human construct that makes all of the characters so likeable. No matter what, there is a nobility and honor. It connects because they are like all of us; they are flawed, have secrets, and make questionable decisions. In the end, though, they do have redeemable qualities.

The Kai/Hood relationship will remind you of Boyd/Raylan in Justified. OrOften at odds, sometimes on the same team, always with a matter of respect.

When I was a professor teaching media studies, I often lectured on levels of consciousness. (I mention this in the True Detective review) On the base level (1), you ca enjoy this show for its pure action, shooting scenes, violence and gratuitous sex. But if you dig deeper, you are tapping in to a commonality of emotion; of secrets and desires. It will take you as deep as level 6 or 7.

Season 2 ended Sunday night, and if you haven't seen it, Banshee is a terrific binge watch. It reminds me in some ways of another HBO produced classic, Deadwood.

It remains to be seen if the show can continue on that arc (season 3 is already in the works), but so far, it's been fantastic.

It's simply a clever, well-conceived show and it is worth the watch.


On another note, several people have asked me if I have any interest in writing or producing a movie or TV series. It's always intrigued me. I once wrote a Tales From the Crypt that never saw the light of day because the show ended. Once Jesus is finished, we're hoping to convert it to a script and make a movie out of it. We potentially have the funding and I think it could happen fairly soon. (And yes, it is close to being done. I could also see Matthew Rauch as Louis). I'm also thinking Dust to Dust might have some longterm potential in a visual medium. It's probably why I like edgy, quality shows that take chances. I admire people who do it well and am frustrated by those who miss opportunities.

I do think this is the golden age of television. HBO raised the bar with The Sopranos and Deadwood, and FX has taken it and run with it as well, as has AMC. They take chances. They pull together compelling characters in bizarre situations and aren't afraid to tackle difficult subjects. BBC is brilliant at it as well. For those of us who enjoy great dramas, this is a terrific time to be alive, and yes it would be fun to be involved with that someday.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

True Detective or defective? Last episode sets off a (bleep) storm

If you got into the show True Detective on HBO, you were treated to one of the most compelling TV experiences in quite some time. The acting by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson was off the charts. The side stories were bizarre and disturbing.  The underlying darkness and constantly evolving grips on reality made it a terrific viewing experience.

Until the finale, which drew widespread criticism on social media. It left questions unanswered. Some of the plot points came out of left field. In the end, the story wasn't what we thought it was at all.

In the end, the story was pretty simple: It was a buddy series. The final scene was reminiscent of the end of Lethal Weapon 2, with a shot up Riggs and Murtaugh waiting for the cavalry. Darker? Yes. More bizarre? Of course. But in the end, that's what the whole thing was about.

The driving force is McConaughey's Rust Cohle. His path through the years is tied to a dark past and a cynical metaphysical approach that develops. As he and Marty (Harrelson) develop through the years, their characters become more alike.

The first five episodes threw conspiracy theories and hints on who might have been the real killer. There was a sinister "group" out there and the question seemed to be how deep did it go? Hints were everywhere.

Viewers speculated the show was full of "Easter Eggs;" in truth, they were all old school red herrings. In fact, they were really butterflies. We would chase them and get nowhere, then chase the next after it was released. They were creatures that were distractions.

The last two took a significant turn; the older detectives team up to solve the case they failed on years before. In the end, they solve it, become close, and find some form of redemption -- Marty with his family, Rust with a somewhat hard to believe spiritual  connection with his dead daughter. Marty even finds the key clue, when it was Rust carrying him for most of the show. They caught the monster -- one that had eluded police for years and clearly finally wanted to be caught -- and won.

And that was that.

All the side stories were just that; butterflies. That frustrated a lot of viewers, who expected more.

The conspiracy theories were dismissed in one exchange late:

Cohle says, we didn’t get them all. But they got a branch from a big rotten tree, and Hart says, we got ours, and basically, the rest of the tree is up to other people.

One of the most brilliant movies  ever made was Fight Club. One of the things I used to teach was see things on deeper levels. On level 1, Fight Club is about angry, disillusioned young men who create secret fight clubs. A person with a basic understanding can understand the movie on that level and enjoy it.

But people who dig deeper see it for what it is: A metaphor for existentialism, where the main character has to destroy everything and rebuild -- "it's only when you have lost everything that you are free to do anything." On that level, as well as the socio/economic conflict and psychological levels, the movie is much more enjoyable. Every word is critical. You can enjoy Level 1, but on Level 10, you are seeing a perfect work that delves deep into philosophy and consciousness.

(This is not a new concept. The Gnostic Christians believed it about Christianity in general).

True Detective at times took us to those levels, but in the end, brought us back to level 1 and its most simple form. I can understand the frustration, but let's also consider the simple brilliance of it; the show constantly surprised us and kept us guessing. At the end, none of the wild conspiracies came through. It was much more simple than we all thought.

There's something to be said for that, because it was clearly intentional.

Years from now, I think people will appreciate this ending more, much as they did with the Sopranos.  I understand the frustration, but I also see the simple brilliance of the show. The ending wasn't what people expected. I have yet to hear a ringing endorsement for it, just a lot of acceptance. Maybe that's all this post is about.

I do think in time, critics will realize the last line was meant for them:

"You're looking at it wrong. To me, the light is winning."