The Beautiful, Devastating Leftovers

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The Walking Dead sucks so much. It’s not that it’s a bad zombie show, it’s that it completely misses the point of what it should be. The idea to me of every apocalypse type show isn’t the big event that made it all happen, but how this event affects the people on a personal level and how it messes up every single relationship and sense of normalcy. Sure, zombies are fun and the threat of them is scary, but what really matters is the universal idea of being without your sister, your father, your dog, whatever, who cares, what caused it, forget zombies, how are you dealing with this very real issue of this massive change to every facet of your life?

Enter the goddamn “Leftovers,” the most depressing show ever that I thought, “well, goddamn, I never thought a TV show would entirely get ME, and it kind of sucks when said show is one of the most depressing of all time and what that says about me, but here we are.” See, The Leftovers is a show about 2% of the population disappearing and instead of really focusing on exactly WHY that happened, it’s more concerned with HOLY SHIT, how am I supposed to deal with so-and-so randomly being eliminated from my life. It’s a show that really doesn’t care beyond some brief broad strokes how they got to this point and what could be the mysterious thing that caused everything to happen, but instead the here and now of these people dealing with this very real fallout.

I have upper echelon shows that I always refer to as my favourites, with the idea that nothing currently could touch them and certainly not right away. The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men and The Simpsons are my big five perfect shows and I thought it would take awhile for something to sit in that company, but what The Leftovers has accomplished so audaciously building in quality season over season and with the absolute masterclass of a finale, it has shot right up there. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been moved and effected by a show like this. Not that there hasn’t been a good bunch of shows since then that I enjoyed, but it weirdly makes me feel alive that there is new art and television still able to be created that makes me feel so much (and it especially a show like this that puts FEEL in all caps) and evokes such emotion out of me like this one.

They only had three seasons and 28 episodes in total, but it was such assured and focused appointment TV that everything was struck with meaning and no note was left wasted. This is a show that literally got better season to season, and sure there’s only three seasons, but I’m remised to think of a show off the top of my head that did it quit like this. Its first season was more concerned traditionally with what you’d think about the show, where it was trying to find out more of the mysteries of what was behind this all, season 2 was delving deeper into these people and their progression beyond what happened and season 3 was about resolution and finding a way to move past things if you can and how it shaped your future life beyond just being defined by this event.

I could go on and on and on, but mainly I wanted to write this because of how perfect the finale was. The Leftovers was in a spot where it could’ve went ANYWHERE for the finale, it could’ve went all supernatural and really honed in on what caused everything, it could’ve just went weirdo insane, but what it ended up doing so beautifully was telling a small love story that played like a foreign film or something. Because at the heart, crux and end of it all, The Leftovers is a love story about Kevin and Norah. The whole hour plus episode was a literal masterclass of acting, emoting and reacting from Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux. I can’t even quantify how good both of them are and I’m going to be pulling my hair out when they don’t get any awards love. What made the finale so good on top of all that is you got the whole base love story/reconciliation angle that shaded in one side of things, and then you got Norah giving the mystery-interested people their answer of her going to the other side where the people on this world disappeared to and delivering the simple yet perfect yet devastating realization that they had their own “Leftovers” event but instead of 2% of their population disappearing they had 98% of theirs disappear to the other side. Norah realized she had no place in that world and came back to her original world. Now watching Carrie Coon deliver her monologue with such conviction it seems so true, and I believe her. But, there are others who believe she made up the whole thing to Kevin and that she did absolutely none of that. I don’t know if there’s an answer and I think it was precisely meant that way for you to interpret the meaning how you will. That’s where the finale works on another level, leaving that dangling thread for people to argue with years later, but nothing too extreme or over the top that it leaves people dissatisfied or missing a piece, just a lynchpin in how two different types of people approach one idea, can there be two truths?

This is basically 1,000 or so words of gushing, but damn am I so happy to do it when it feels like forever since I’ve felt this strongly for a show. I guess in a weird sort of way it’s kind of ironic that this soul-crushingly depressing show has reinvigorated some spirit inside of me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Leftovers was a raw nerve of a show and one that wasn’t afraid to get to the rotten core of everyone and reveal said rottenness, but maybe also sparring a few seeds for some future revitalization. It never sacrificed the “real” just because maybe that would make for a more palatable TV show, it bared everything out front and dared you to stick around, because things might suck a lot in the moment, but there’s always that glimmer in the future, another person or an idea that keeps you moving and keeps you alive.

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‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’: A Series Of Wonder And Blood

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Like many I’m a big Game Of Thrones fan, and previously like many I was a big Game Of Thrones fan who had never read the books. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because HBO shows are great on their own, but I’d always wanted to read the books to get the full picture of the series. It’s kinda weird for me because I’m totally not a big fantasy fan at all and never really pictured myself reading five massive books about swords and dragons. As the HBO show attests, though, this book is more than just fantastical knights and battles waged in the names of kings with magic and dragons lurking on the outskirts. No, it often has much more in common with political and family dramas with all its scheming and backdoor dealings that affect things even bigger than anything on a battlefield could accomplish.

A Game Of Thrones lived up to the hype and made me want to keep reading it, even though I knew how it ended since I’ve seen all of the TV show. My main fear coming into these books is that it would be a tough slog going through, because normally these types of fantasy books to me are always wordy and bogged down in minutiae of the times that make it hard for you to read, but this book had none of that. It was easy to understand everything and had a very modern tone of writing, even though it’s about a distant and fantastical time period (yes, I know these books were written in the 90s and 00s, so it makes sense they SOUND modern).

I love the device of having each chapter as a POV of a different characters as it really helps to focalize the story, separate all the characters from one another and really makes it easy for you to follow along with this sprawling story with countless characters. I’m on one hand kind of grateful I saw the show first because it made it so much easier to follow along and keep track of all these characters with being able to put a face to a name, because I don’t know if I could’ve kept everything on track and together if I didn’t have that kind of reference point for a book this dense with characters. When it all comes down to it, nothing really all that big happens in the first novel and really it’s all just about setting the pieces in place and setting the scenery for the coming novels, but Martin does it wonderfully.

A Clash Of Kings is for all intents and purposes as good as the first. The first 3/4 felt a lot like it was spinning its wheels, as it didn’t have the newness and introductory drive of the first novel. It picks up near the end with the big battle and opens things up to explore new areas as it kind of seemed like the end of the first phase.

All the storylines in A Storm Of Swords really click and make it a breeze to get through. The big set pieces like the Red Wedding and certain other big happenings that this book is known for work equally as fun as they do in shock value. But, what really makes the book work is the smaller moments between characters, like the ones between Arya/Hound, Jon/Sam and Jaime/Brienne. The book ends in a sort of lull, with not too much happening in a broad sense, whereas the second novel felt like it was swelling to what eventually happened in this novel (to great effect).

I really enjoyed A Feast For Crows, and in a lot of ways I liked it just as much as the others, but its repetitive nature and spinning of its wheels that go absolutely nowhere over the course of the book started to make it a chore more than anything. The book largely flips between Cersei, Jaime and Brienne (who are all great and interesting characters, I’m not one to be crying that Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys weren’t in the book) which is great, but that Martin never pushes them forward into much of a storyline or gives them anymore character depth that we previously weren’t already introduced to is a major detriment to what the heck the existence of this book even is in the first place. All that aside I love Martin’s writing and how he strings words together, and in that sense it was as much as a pleasure to read this as the others. Even after his ending coda of why he split these books up, I’m not entirely sure why he did it as I don’t know why he didn’t just make two normal books with all the characters like he’s been doing instead of splitting them up like this. It’s not like these books are all that self-contained where it’s really just one long story we’re reading over installments instead of multiple different stories that absolutely NEEDED to be segregated.

A Dance With Dragons I found to be about on par with A Feast For Crows, while I felt it differed in that it exceeded and fell in different parts than the previous novel. Whereas the fourth book felt like a lot of it was just spinning its wheels, A Dance With Dragons is intent on pushing the plot forth on all ends of the spectrum, which re-instills some vigour and drive in the series, but even still it all just feels like build up and build up and build up until who knows what? I also felt that this book might have been a little too broad covering so many characters and POVs that it became hard to really follow or even care about what some of the smaller people are doing, especially when it had little story repercussions at the time or after within the book. Again, I love the writing a lot and I’m looking forward to what’s next, but this is the second time I’ve been anticipating what’s to come in the next book only to get another anticipatory book that seems to have blown all its story in the first three books and is just biding time until Martin can figure out something that stands up to the level of the first novels.

All in all the A Song Of Ice And Fire was exactly what I expected it to be in the best way possible. Having seen every Game Of Thrones episode up to this point it had no effect in my enjoyment of reading the series, even though I knew of various character deaths and where it was going, if anything it helped me along. It’s such a fun world to be in that works equally as well when its spouting about the supernatural, politicking behind the scenes, waging war on a battlefield or getting philosophical. Now I get to be one of those awful people who gets to complain about George R. R. Martin not writing the The Winds Of Winter fast enough and write angry comments like “WHERE’S THE NEXT DAMN BOOK, GEORGE!!!” In actuality I don’t know why everybody is complaining about the long wait time in between books, because the past three have always been separated by at least five years, but I guess it’s because he constantly talks about writing the book, yet we’ve seen nothing from it. Anyways, I don’t really care when it comes, it’ll come eventually, I think… but as of now I’m content with the wonderful world and writing that George R. R. Martin has delivered with these five novels.

‘Behind The Candelabra’: Review

Behind The Candelabra

I always just knew of Liberace as that sequined piano player from way back when. Of course, as I and people nowadays know him as a gay icon and often a punchline for that type of humour. But, as the film portrays, it’s fascinating seeing how in the 1970s he was obviously gay, but made sure to the nth degree that the public didn’t know that, and that he kept up appearances as a straight man. Obviously, back then it would have been a killer to his career, and the danger and threat of AIDS wasn’t even a thought in people’s minds.

Not knowing really anything about Liberace, I can only understand how he was to a certain degree, but Michael Douglas portrayed him perfectly to what I imagine he was like, or at least played to how we view him. It’s almost scary how good Douglas is in the role, inhabiting him so expertly that it was often off-putting when he showed off his eccentricities and plying into Matt Damon’s character. Damon is equally great as what ends up being Liberace’s boy toy, a troubled individual who learns to love fame when attached to Liberace and all the spoils that come with it.

It’s a common narrative we’ve seen before, especially in bio-pics, Damon is the hot, young thing that is unsure of all this attention, but eventually embraces it, almost to an unhealthy degree. He gets comfortable, and a little too steadfast in his position. Then he realizes he’s more expendable then he ever thinks, and is so easily replaced, much to his chagrin. We’ve seen this before, but the framing of the story and the acting that delivers it makes it feel like it’s the first time we’re seeing it.

Soderbergh’s directing isn’t flashy, it hardly ever is, but’s it’s competent and confident like always, and often lets the story play out rather than try and enhance it unnecessarily through camera tricks. There is one scene in particular that stands out, Douglas and Damon are walking through Liberace’s lavish house as Damon complains they don’t get out and do stuff together, Soderbergh’s tracks them through the house, showing off the incredible luxury and prominence these men live in.

I think largely Behind The Candelabra is successful because it’s consistently interesting and explores a topic that few know all that much about. I always knew of the man, but never really understood who Liberace was and Soderbergh, Douglas and Damon paint a perfect picture.

8/10

Emmy Awards 2012

The Emmy’s were relatively fine tonight, even if they seemed like a retread of years’ past. ‘Louie’ and ‘Homeland’ received some awards, but beyond them what really seemed new? ‘Modern Family’ sadly continued their steamroll through the awards even as Nolan Gould and Rico Rodriguez remained the only good parts from the show (prove me wrong). We were delivered an Emmys that was slightly different, but lets face it, was pretty much the exact same as we’ve seen in years’ past.

For years now I’ve been a champion for Jimmy Kimmel hosting the Oscars. I’ve simply had enough with these random non-comedians who have hosted the Oscars of late and have no comedic timing and are relegated to dumb musical numbers (I’m looking at you Hugh Jackman, James Franco and Anne Hathaway). I’m a traditionalist and love when a hard to the core comedian hosts an awards show and does a solid 10 minute monologue rather than some silly musical number. History has shown how great legitimate stand-up comedians have done at awards shows like Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart (even though he’s not really a stand-up comedian). I’ve always enjoyed Jimmy Kimmel from ‘The Man Show’ through ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ and since he is based off ABC, would be a perfect Oscars or Emmys host. Ultimately, he was solid, fine in the monologue, not great, but as the night wore on, like all hosts, was given less to do and hardly felt like a presence. He didn’t really do anything wrong, but wasn’t spectacular either, and nowadays I guess that’s the best you can expect from an Emmys host.

Because I don’t want this to drag on forever, I’m not gonna break-down every category, but instead just the ones that effected or impacted me the most.

Ummm, so, Louis C.K., won for best writing in a comedy series and for best writing in a variety special. He simultaneously seemed grateful and reticent when receiving these much deserved awards. ‘Louie’ is one of the best shows on TV, and even if a conservative show like the Emmys will recognize it’s writing, I’ll be happy.

But, just when you think the Emmys is being awesome and giving Louis C.K. awards, they also keep giving ‘Modern Family’ and its cast members awards as well as goddamn Jon Cryer. Like, c’mon, I thought we were at least past giving Jon Cryer another fucking award for the lowest common denominator of comedy. ‘Modern Family’ is another show that scrapes the bottom of the barrel for ‘Two And A Half Men’-esque racial and sexist jokes.

Okay, now lets get to the awesome stuff, namely Julia Louis-Dreyfus winning for Best Actress in a Comedy for ‘Veep’. I’ve recently found out through Twitter that there’s actually quite a few people who don’t like ‘Veep’ for some reason? Okay, I guess you don’t like smart political jokes, name-calling, layered jokes and acidic come-backs, that’s cool for you though. Think about this, forget about the ‘Seinfeld’ curse, JLD has won an Emmy for ‘Seinfeld’, ‘The New Adventures Of Old Christine’, and now ‘Veep’, that is quite the accomplishment for the comedic goddess who we shorten to JLD.

If you know me at all, you’ll know my undying love for ‘Homeland’, my favourite show of last year. Now, Claire Danes was an absolute lock for Best Actress, and wasn’t she just adorable/deserving accepting it? I thought Damian Lewis would have a good chance to win Best Actor, but thought it might slip away. Little did I know, the Academy decided to slay Bryan Cranston, and give the award to Lewis, I’m not complaining. Again, I thought Best Drama was a possibility, but not an actuality, but little did I know ‘Homeland’ would take home all the gold.

There really isn’t much to say about this mediocre edition of the Emmys. It was all pretty par for the course, besides the ‘Homeland’ victories, which when you look back aren’t all that much of a surprise. Louis C.K.’s wins were beyond awesome but not completely surprising as everyone knew how great they were, but just took the Academy to notice. Otherwise, we were left with dumb ‘Modern Family’ winning everything, a lackluster HBO movie (‘Game Change’) and other bits and pieces that were easily predicted, such as Lange, Paul, Smith and Moore winning.

There was some nice surprises, and solid wins, but more of the same dominated the Emmys, who had hardly even deserved Emmys in their “best” seasons. Some new blood was nice, but when there’s so much of the old, do we really recognize the new? Or is it just a bump in the road?

Also, Lena Dunham is all sorts of awful.

Why Even Good TV Can Be Hard To Get Through

As great as a lot of TV is nowadays, it can be awfully hard to slog through an episode of a show that you realize is technically good, but is just a boring viewing experience. This past season of Game Of Thrones really got me thinking about this idea, where a show can be doing everything right, yet I find myself disengaged and lost due to a number of reasons. The first season of  Game Of Thrones was good, I followed it all the way through and enjoyed it, yet always found myself struggling to fully comprehend storylines, which character was which and how the alliances all shaped up. Coming at a disadvantage not having read the books, I was really out in the wind in trying to fully comprehend everything. While I progressed through the season I realized that the show was technically good and executed well, but it was hard for me to fully give myself into it as I was constantly playing catch-up by trying to keep the dozens of characters, relationships and storylines in order. Finally parsing through it all when season 2 came around, I was a seasoned Game Of Thrones viewer who knew all the characters, how they related and where every location was situated on the map. A characters’ name would be mentioned, and I could immediately put a face to the name. Having understood the majority of the minutiae of Game Of Thrones, I could now follow along in both aspects of respecting it as a proficient series and also as one that legitimately engaged me and made me look forward to it every week. Season 2 was a rewarding experience because of the the groundwork that season 1 developed in allowing me to be introduced to the world. As in season 1 I was not always enjoying parts as I was trying to understand it all, with season 2 I was more able to enjoy the by being confident in my knowledge of the happenings in the show. Season 1 would probably play better for me now, but my experience with it drove this idea of good TV that is awfully hard to get through and comprehend, even while recognizing its competence.

There are several shows like this that I realize are good, but it’s quite the ordeal to actually make it through an episode, because it’s boring, bogged down in necessities of the period and wading through specific rules intrinsic to the show. I’m not sure if it’s just me or evidence to my “theory”, but a lot of these good shows that are hard to get through tend to be period pieces. Shows like Boardwalk Empire, The Tudors, The Borgias, and hell, even the beginning of Deadwood to an extent. I’ll take Boardwalk Empire as an example, though it can be applied to most shows that fall into its range. I like (not love) “Boardwalk” and think it’s a pretty decent show, especially after some interesting steps taken in the latter part of season 2. I don’t particularly enjoy watching it though, and never look forward to watching it on sunday night (when it was airing). It’s always like an hour-long black hole on sunday nights that I know I’ll have to suffer through. These shows seem good in retrospect where it’s hell getting through, but once you’re on the other side you appreciate some of its finer points (mostly because you’re done slogging through it). That’s where I find it hard to gauge my interest in these shows, I like Boardwalk Empire, I like The Borgias, but god if it isn’t hard to get through an episode.

I have a few ideas to why these types of shows are hard to get through, though I’m reticent to single them out to only period pieces, yet those are all the examples that pop up in my mind right now. Firstly, coming from our 21st century viewpoint it can be hard to overcome the hurdles of watching life in the 1920s, 1490s or 1870 because of how different it is. We have to learn a new set of rules when viewing a show set in a different time period, as customs and society operate much differently than we are used to in our current mind frame. These customs when integrated in the story and off of characters can be hard to comprehend when we have no clue what’s happening due to the alien subject matter. Secondly, these types of shows tend to be very wordy where long conversations occur between characters that can be so ingrained in the time that the slang can be difficult to understand and hard to follow the motivations. These types of shows are usually always dramas as well where every word needs to be hung on as it could be relevant to a plot point. Attention to detail and your full focus is required to follow these shows, and it can be tough to always be “on” and following everything that is going on. It’s not a secret why two of the most popular shows are, Two And A Half Men and NCIS where critical thinking and following every utmost detail is not important, and where you can just dip in and out of an episode or within a season and not be lost. Most of this “good” TV requires you to be caught up on all the story and remember it all. While this can be rewarding if it is as well executed as Breaking Bad or Mad Men, it can also be frustrating and cheap following all the required details that go inside the spiraling disappointment of something like the The Killing. Lastly, this type of TV usually operates inside a relatively specific formula of episodes, where they have the same beats, archs and goals that they cyclically accomplish. Once they find their niche, most are simply fine to work within it which creates fine TV, but nothing great to the levels of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, who constantly flip the script. Once a system is in place these shows can coast off this previously put upon idea and just create dozens of episodes in the same vein, that are fine, but nothing spectacular. This system eventually runs out though into tedium, and the spinning of its wheels (doing the same thing over again, not moving into a forward direction) with shows like 30 Rock and Dexter which should have been over long ago, but were once good in terms of 30 Rock and semi-decent in terms of Dexter.

I think comedy shows are mainly an outlier to this theory and have a stronger line between you liking them or not. Basically you’re much more likely to keep watching a drama that is hard to get through than a comedy. I don’t think comedies have this sheen like some dramas do where they are good but hard to get through. Comedies can’t hide behind much, other than if they’re funny, where the plot usually takes a backseat. So if something isn’t funny, you’re not likely to keep on watching it as it is very cut and dry, while dramas receive more leeway as the things they are trying to accomplish are stretched out and paid off over multiple episodes as stuff builds, where comedies are more here and now, either you like it or you don’t. There are probably are some shows that are “good TV that is hard to get through”, but through a slight twist. Instead of “hard to get through”, you may think it’s good TV that you recognize, but maybe not jiving with your sense of humour. I’m like this with 30 Rock where I realize a lot of it is good and funny, but I’m not the biggest fan of wacky and meta comedy with all the constant guest stars, so it turns me off sometimes and creates a disengagement.

There’s also a flip side, which makes my previous argument null and void though, Mad Men, the greatest show on TV right now. It’s a period piece, it’s slow, lots of talking and concentration on the inner-doings of the 1960s, yet I love it and it’s my favourite show. It is obviously executed on a higher level than current Showtime or HBO “period” pieces, but it still maintains many of the overarching similarities to these shows that should make it more similar, like setting, social differences, little action attention to detail and drawn out conversations and archs. Mad Men though is kind of uniformly modern in it’s 1960s that displays a sheen reflection of our current society and operates like a connection of short stories, that build up to something big that serves both drop-in and consistent viewers relatively equally. I think there’s a confidence and flexibility in Mad Men that puts it on a higher pedestal than these other shows and puts it in a league of its own, where, hey, it’s good TV that I look forward to AND it’s easy to watch. As mentioned above, Mad Men breaks a lot of the normal sense of formula and you never know what kind of episode to expect week to week. It’s an always changing and morphing show that ironically from its outset is never static and always moving, even it it looks like it’s slow and boring. Another show that would seem to fall in line with Boardwalk Empire and The Tudors in being hard to get through is Rome, yet I was addicted from the first episode and found it to be surprisingly easy to get through, when coming in I thought I was going to be bogged down in period specific banter that would put me at a lost. Basically, I’m saying that I’ve disproved my theory in regards to period pieces, so article this is now null and void…

When devising this article I wanted to write about shows which I liked, but don’t particularly enjoy watching, which I hopefully did. What I didn’t expect was that they would mostly all be “period” pieces, and that the bulk of this post would be related to these shows. Now, I’m not saying only “period” shows can be good yet hard to watch, but for some reason that occurs for me. I guess these shows are hard to get through for me (as evidenced above), but I’m sure there is some more “modern” shows like this for me as well. Maybe this is an ongoing idea and endeavour, but it certainly fascinates me, especially due to the amount of TV I watch, how I really do like certain shows, but man is it hard to get through their episodes sometimes. The nail on the head to this article, maybe, is that I would actually much rather perfer/be able to get through an episode of 90210 (the reboot, which is actually kind of decent in a weird way, but that’s an article for some time in the future) than an episode of Boardwalk Empire, or a universally thought of “good show”. If you put a disc of each in front of me and allowed me to choose based on my own enjoyment, I’d be watching Naomi Clarke and company gab and gossip before you could even finish the question.

I think when it all comes down to it though, we all have these shows, different to all, that you realize are good, but just can’t understand or find it hard to get through, for a variety of reasons, probably different than mine. Maybe mine just happen to be “period pieces”, where yours might be “teen dramas”, “political dramas”, or a certain type of comedy. I don’t think we really have a problem or anything per say, but I think these types of shows encourage us to be better viewers, where we have to work to more fully understand and appreciate a show, and which hopefully will be all the more rewarding for you in the end.