murder, she wrote: homicide as wallpaper

I’ve sometimes thought that it would be great to see a show devoted to an ingenious detective who only solves decidedly minor mysteries, but with all the gravity and dedication normally reserved for homicide investigations. In this show, a missing stapler might occasion a full forensic analysis of the surrounding desk, exhaustive analysis of fingerprints, and all-night interrogations.

In part, I just love absurdity, but I also conceived of the show as a kind of response to the incredible preponderance of foul play in the world of prime-time TV. Murder is so frequent on TV, so deeply baked in to multiple genres, that it seems almost preposterous to me that shows don’t regularly address the unlikelihood of it all.

Alan Cleaver

Photo by Alan Cleaver via cc

I had never seen Murder, She Wrote until this week, but from what I can tell, the show is the acme of the near-ubiquity of murder on television, as lots and lots of people have already noticed. The sheer number of murders in Cabot Cove, Maine — the tiny town that Jessica Fletcher calls home — is enormous, and to watch the show on anything but a completely incredulous level, you need to accept the fantastical statistical anomaly that is the town’s murder rate.
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the good wife: how close are we to the inside of her head?

I’ve more or less completely savored the 6th season of The Good Wife, so it was in a defensive crouch that I read Sonia Saraiya’s recent critique of the show. Even with a modicum of objectivity, I think it’s hard to fault the show overall: Rather than retread an established style and tired plots from earlier seasons, recent episodes have often been formally inventive and touched on real issues — and not only of the ripped-from-the-headlines variety. Next to these facts, the odd lackluster character arc or ill-conceived plot point don’t matter so much. Give the thing credit: A show that could easily skate by on its prestige is actually taking risks. Last week’s episode used innovative sound tricks, and a plot this week revolved around the mechanics of systematic civil rights abuse. What more do you really want from a popular show?

This past season, I was especially taken with an episode that might have been the most experimental of the series, “Mind’s Eye,” which is primarily composed of scenes taking place entirely in the imagination of lead character Alicia Florrick (the eponymous Good Wife). In season 6, Alicia is running for State’s Attorney in Illinois and the episode establishes in the first few minutes that she’s facing a major interview in a few hours. At the same time, she has to prepare, at least mentally, to fend off a lawsuit from the exceptionally clever and unscrupulous Louis Canning, played by Michael J. Fox.
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the sopranos: the means justify the ends

This week, it was sort-of-but-not-really revealed that perhaps Sopranos creator David Chase believes that Tony Soprano ended up surviving the end of the show, though probably not, or maybe yes, or whatever.

I’ve known about the ambiguous ending of The Sopranos since the finale aired in 2007, but I’m only actually watching the series for the first time right now – I’ve just finished season 3. In theory, the series has been “spoiled” for me since the beginning.

And yet I’ve savored the series – a fairly grandiose way of putting it, but not really much of an exaggeration. The pleasure of watching The Sopranos far outweighs, for me, knowing what’s going to happen to some or almost all of the characters. In light of what I get out of the series, it seems a little upside-down to me for anybody to get up in arms about the lack of a definitive ending for Tony Soprano. Continue reading

games of thrones’ not-so-hidden realism

I’ve already said most of what I want to say about Game of Thrones, but an article on posted late last week has drawn me out of Game-of-Thrones-commentary retirement. I found this essay displeasing almost in every paragraph; it was delightfully complex and subtle in the ways it managed to annoy me, and as such deserves some in-depth treatment.

Ostensibly pro-GoT, Jack Hamilton’s piece celebrates the show for its great escapism. Toward the beginning, he describes Game of Thrones in a manner objectionable on several fronts:

It is about swords and sigils and dragons and frozen baby-crazed zombies and it is decidedly uninterested in transcending these trappings or ironically critiquing them. … Game of Thrones is a terrifically fun and immensely popular show, but can a work so flagrantly inauthentic actually be important television?

Hamilton starts from the premise that anything with a dragon is “inauthentic,” a word he seems to take as a synonym for “unreal,” even though it’s nothing of the sort. We can all agree that GoT is unreal, but the slanderous “inauthentic” implies that the show is deeply suspect just for sporting some fantasy elements.

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one scene in the good wife is a sweet little triumph

One of the things I notice about nearly every movie I like is that there isn’t only one brilliant idea whose sheer ingenuity makes the movie great. Usually, it’s just several smaller good ideas, each one maybe a little unremarkable on its own, which add up to something transcendent.

Recently, The Good Wife had a sequence that made me feel that way. It’s one of the more affecting moments I’ve seen as of late, not to mention one of the more creative editing schemes I think I’ve ever seen outside of an actual film.

There’s some slight spoiling here, since this episode comes well into the show’s fifth season, but I can sketch the general psychological dynamic without really giving away much at all: At this point, Will, played by Josh Charles, is feeling terribly wronged by his sometime lover, Alicia (the show’s star Wife, Julianna Margulies). They’re both talented lawyers, and Will is preparing for the next day in court, when he’ll have to cross-examine a combative Alicia as a witness.
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what how i met your mother gets wrong about the seinfeld formula

I haven’t been watching How I Met Your Mother this season, but the show is wrapping up its epic meet-cute and I wanted to see how that’s been going, so I watched the last couple of episodes the other night and realized I hadn’t really missed anything. This would have been surprising to 2008 Brandon, who binge-watched the first couple of seasons and loved every minute of it.

Since high school, I’ve had a soft spot for shows about dating in New York. It started with Seinfeld, though at the time the show didn’t seem as though it was really about dating in particular. Even so, it made an impression: On Seinfeld, dating was sure to produce reams of anecdotes to recount to your confidants after the fact. In that universe, reporting on your most recent romantic misadventures was a key component in your conversational portfolio, as you boiled your last date down to a glib summary or catchphrase, and your would-be amours were fodder for an unforgiving scoring system that honed in on every detail. A date might be going perfectly, but a bad case of “man hands” would be enough to sink it.

The show made dating seem like a blood sport, yes, but more importantly, there was the comforting ritual of recounting of the idiosyncrasies of last night’s date to your friends, who doubled as your cheering section and peanut gallery.
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the walking dead as time travel, continuum, about-ness, and plot

Hey, quick blog-related note. I know that I promised a link to my Barefoot Contessa essay over at the Brattle Film Notes blog. It’s not up yet, but I’ll post on here as soon as it is. Here’s an essay on something else to tide you over until the arrival of that other piece, which I know you have been waiting to read with bated breath and suffering many sleepless nights over. Please, please, don’t do anything rash in the meantime, and thanks for reading.

Update: Here’s that link to the essay link, finally. But rest assured I will still allow you to read the essay below, as well.

Probably more than with any other show, my relationship to The Walking Dead could be described as an addiction. As I watched the third season this past week, I became aware of the almost existential dilemma it creates. On the one hand, I am gripped by the desire to see what happens next, with the visceral reaction that entails. On the other hand, by the time the plot has played out and the show ends, it occurs to me that what I was waiting for could be described as mere information — I wanted to find out who would live and who would die, and that’s about all.

Anyway, after some 12 hours watching season 3, I have had lots of time to cogitate on whether the show is about something more.

(This video is, err, not for the faint of heart:)

I mean, duh, the show is about the characters. But if you were to say that, I would want to reply, in my best/worst stoner voice, “No, man, but what is the show about?” The emphasis on “about” would be an attempt, maybe inarticulately, to explain that what I really want to know is how the show represents the world and what it’s like to look through its porthole view onto the universe. Which aspects of existence, besides the gut-clenching tension of watching people barely survive, does the show remind me to think about?
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