Monday, November 7, 2011

What's On My TV, Part II

Deadwood: A+.
David Milch’s masterful HBO series is one that I’ve been wanting to revisit for some time now, and lately I’ve been relaxing a couple of times a week with Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), Seth Bullock (Timothy Oliphant), and the rest of the magnificent cast of this one of a kind show. Milch comes at the 1870s American western frontier and boomtown from seemingly every direction at once, and with meticulous attention to every grime-encrusted detail of a mining-camp staggering its way towards becoming a town along streets paved in mud and excrement, both animal and human. The language is foul, yet rises to incredibly delightful heights of poetry echoing, and I believe firmly sliding into, iambic pentameter. Milch brings the dirt, violence, cursing, and fucking of humanity on the edge of the world vividly to life in this genre-defying piece of art. There’s never been anything like Deadwood, before or since, but there is hope, as Milch returns to HBO this December with Luck.

Alphas: B-.
The strangely re-named SyFy network, lately more famous for its C-grade TV movies than shows, came up with in interesting twist on an old trope that has a hell of a lot of promise. Basically, there are certain people who are born with extraordinary abilities, like super-strength, far beyond the usual human norm. However, such genetic gifts are seemingly always accompanied by some sort of disability. The super-strength results in metabolic overload guaranteed to eventually bring on a massive heart attack, for instance. Or the ability to understand any language, or create new ones, and write unbreakable code being accompanied by severe apraxia. As Dr. Lee Rosen, David Strathairn leads a solid cast including the breakout Ryan Cartwright as Gary Bell, an autistic who can pull all types of electronic signals out of the air without any technological aid, and whose on-screen chemistry with Bill Harken (Malik Yoba), the afore-mentioned super-strong guy with a dodgy heart, is simply brilliant. Unfortunately, the show’s primary romantic entanglement between Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell) and Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie) tends to bring the show to a screeching halt with their wooden dialogue and clunky attempts at a complicated relationship. Which is a shame, as both are fine actors, as Christie proved to my satisfaction in his recent big-screen role in Apollo 18. In addition, at the end of the series’ first season, the most interesting of the “bad guys”, the genius apraxic linguist Anna (Liane Balaban), was killed off in favor of a far more conventional (and boring!) Big Bad in the form of the urbane immortal Stanton Parrish (John Pyper-Ferguson).  Alphas has been renewed for a second season next Summer, though, and the show still holds a great deal of promise, so we’ll see.

Grimm: + (only two episodes have aired at time of writing but it looks good!)
The big surprise for me this season has definitely been NBC’s Grimm, from Joss Whedon alums David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) and Jim Kouf (Angel). The series is a generic hybrid, mixing urban fantasy/fairy-tales with police drama. Nick Burckhardt (David Giuntoli) is a homicide detective with an uncanny deductive ability. Turns out he’s also a direct descendent of the brothers Grimm, of fairy-tale fame. Only the tales weren’t really fiction, and we are definitely dealing with the original, not-for-kids Grimm’s Tales. The Grimms have been defending humanity from the various critters that hide among them for centuries now, the gift of being able to see the monsters among us passing from one descendent to another as the previous Grimm dies. (Slayer-syndrome, anyone?) The summary sounds like something that could be really bad, but the show pulls it off, largely through meticulous attention to the details of the fairy-tales, including some brilliant Easter-eggs for the viewer, as when the co-ed jogger in the first episode dons her red sorority hoodie to go into the woods and down “Talon Trail,” where she is dismembered and partially eaten by a wolf-ting with a penchant for the color red. Red Riding-hood has left the path again. The acting is good, and I think I can already call the breakaway talent as Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays the wise-cracking, pilates-fanatic, coffee-gourmandizing side-kick to Giuntoli’s befuddled detective, a side-kick who, by the way, is also a blutbad, better known to us kids as a Big Bad Wolf. Mitchell’s comic timing and rapid dialogue are both equally brilliant, and he provides a much needed stream of exasperated, why-can’t-you-just-leave-me-alone-already humor to what could otherwise be a very, very dark show. Honestly, the only reason I haven’t given Grimm an “A” is that I’ve only seen two episodes, so who knows where the show will actually go. Looking good so far though!

Well, that hits the high-spots, readers mine, or at least most of them. How about you? What’re you watching these days?

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