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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‘Breaking Bad’: “Felina” And How It All Stacks Up

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Breaking Bad has been all the rage, the past weeks, months and past couple years, and rightfully so. It finished up its fine run this evening and quite literally everyone in my Internet and IRL circle is tweeting, talking, blogging or writing about it, so time for me to throw my hat into the ring.

I got into the show right in time to see the season 3 finale on TV. My interest had always been piqued as it was a pretty unique set-up that seemed ripe for a good show, chemistry teacher turned meth cooker, and I was (and still am) the biggest fan of its AMC counter-part Mad Men, so I binged-watched and found myself at the season finale.   Now I really like Breaking Bad, but I’ve never loved it. In fact, I wasn’t a fan at all really though seasons 1 and 2, and it wasn’t until the conclusion of season 3 that I really started to like the show. Season 3 was the first real inkling to me that things weren’t just ratcheting up tension wise for the season, but that these ramifications would be felt going forward, with no one likely to forget these past mistakes. Actually, I take that back, I did love season 4, it’s by far my favourite of the seasons and such an awesome thrill ride and flawless back six or so episodes that is some of the most entertaining and fun television I’ve ever seen. I think that’s what it boils down to for me, Breaking Bad is a well-acted and plotted action movie (or series) with plenty of twists and turns and big bads and quotable lines, it’s just a ton of fun to be along for the ride. Yes, technically it does all this to a grade-A level, the writing is fantastic and so is the action, but boiled down to its parts, it’s a grand action/adventure story that happens to suck everybody in with it’s formula.

I enjoyed “Felina” as a ending chapter for the show, but I did have my own restraints with how certain things were left and how we came to them. For the sake of keeping this concise, I’ll focus solely on the lacking, because if you want some rah-rah Breaking Bad coverage, I’ll point you to a thousand different other places on the web. What Breaking Bad normally runs on, tensions, twists, turns and the unknown was largely avoided, where Walt’s game plan and the end were spelled out quite clearly. It’s known early on the battery powered 360 degree machine gun Walt is building, when he drives his car in the compound you know what’s going to happen, when he does his own park job you know what’s going to happen, when he grabs his keys you know what’s going to happen. Everything we know, it’s just a matter of letting it play out in front of us.

Honestly, I didn’t think things would get wrapped up so cleanly. I’m largely fine with the idea that Walt dies in a state of peace, but it does feel largely detached, this episode as well, from what the past two seasons have been driving towards, especially within Walt’s motives and his frame of mind. He’s alienated still largely from his family, but he dies knowing Walt Jr. is living healthy with money surely on its way, he’s on better terms with Skylar after their conversation, with her feeling some elements of remorse, whether she fully extends it or not, and Holly will be given a good life being raised by her mother, even if she’s ever absent of the good and bad memories of her father. Jesse gets to have his revenge on his captures, a last show of a semblance of mutual respect between him and Walt on some level, it still remains no matter what, then he’s driving off into the distance, trading the blue for greener pastures.

In the face of dealing with how he would end things compared to controversial finales from The Sopranos and Lost, Vince Gilligan stated he was a fan of closure, not leaving large questions or threads dangling and not living the state of a character in limbo. And, hey, I guess he wasn’t lying. I like both sides of the coin, wrapping everything up in a nice package or leaving things dangling as debatable mystery and talking point until the end of time, as long as they’re done faithfully to the material that came before it. I praise Vince Gilligan for giving us our answers, largely the ones we expected, or at least hoped, with Jesse becoming free and Walt paying for his crimes by the ultimate law, death, but even still regains redemptive qualities for how he went out, on his own terms. The finale to me felt like it was from a different show, or at least a different version of the show that we hadn’t been watching. It was tight, clean to the point, when largely the show in the past’s been loose, gritty and willing to string you along in places. Of course, this is the finale, so by nature they have to do some wrapping up, but you don’t ditch the girl who brought you to the dance in the first place even when the night is ending. I liked the finale for what it was, but I just wished I could’ve liked it more for what Breaking Bad was.

A quick little thing that I didn’t really wanna bring up, since it doesn’t really fit anywhere, but I feel so compelled to, that I just had to. Regardless, whether I loved or hated the finale or the show (I liked it! I really did! Even if it barely comes across), it’s insane to me scrolling through Twitter how many people from different walks of life, from sports, entertainment, politics, fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, cousins, barn animals, that weird kid in your class, that guy who for some reason always talks to you at work, are so quick and rash that not only was that the greatest ending of all time, but that Breaking Bad is the greatest show of all time. Now, I’m not going to get into a greatest show of all time debate right now, although I’d love to, but passing judgment this soon is aways comical, even if we have the full story already. Now, I’m not gonna say that things like The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield and Mad Men (barring an insanely bad final season) are better than Breaking Bad, okay, I will, but I’ll let you have this night. Speaking to my larger point in my second paragraph, almost everybody, from all walks of life, or ranging demographics, or sex groups or whatever is so willing and easily able to call it the best show of all time. It’s because the show is so much more accessible and easy to palate than a “Sopranos” or The Wire or Mad Men, shows that lesser people, and many Breaking Bad fans, not all, would classify as “boring,” “slow,” or hard to get into. They don’t always crash along like Breaking Bad, or as exciting on the surface level, so they’re automatically not as good to the casual layabout because they’re harder to get into and you have to pay attention more.

That’s why Breaking Bad is so akin to an action movie or series, it’s broad enough that largely everyone can enjoy some facet of it, there’s twists and turns to keep you coming back, cliff hangers and cool memes to make out of it for the kids. It’s so much easier to get into, where while it’s an often really good show, it’s gloss tricks people into thinking how great it was and is. I’m really curious to see truly how much of a pedestal, if at all, history will let Breaking Bad share with already defined hallmarks of television of this ilk in The Sopranos and The Wire. Breaking Bad has and always will be the little brother to these shows, occasionally grabbing a sneak-attack win over its cunning older sibling, but largely remains in the shadows. Who knows, maybe future people who type on a keyboard and think about these things really will hold it in that regard, maybe, I’m a hater, or maybe we just all have to stop taking these things too seriously, enjoy all the great television we have, and succumb to its number one goal, to be entertained.

Remembering James Gandolfini

(HBO)

(HBO)

Within the last couple years I was able to re-watch the entire series of The Sopranos, and whether it’s my time away from the program, my evolving “experience” in TV watching (lets pretend thats a thing), or whatever it was, I was completely bulled over by both the largeness and intimateness of the show. Something clicked in this run through of the series that really coalesced it’s elements into becoming my favourite TV show of all time (give or take The Simpsons), somewhat suddenly in the confidence of its proceedings. Season 6, the ultimate turning point for me, originally my least favourite season, opened up Pandora’s box this time around and it became my favouirte of the series, all perfect episodes mixed in with maybe two sub-par entries. Of course, there’s a lynch pin to everything that runs through The Sopranos gambit, a wholly defining entity.  The whole show spins out of one central aspect, the one that has shaped my love of TV and progressed it further as a medium than can even be defined now, one character of Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini.

James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony Soprano is the greatest televison acting display I have ever seen on the medium. Now, obviously I haven’t seen every show ever made, but in my own conscious I can say without a doubt that I haven’t seen a better and more commanding piece of work than what Gandolfini play-acted, and I doubt I’ll see any better. He was so good that simultaneously it seemed like Gandolfini just rolled into set and wasn’t even acting at all, like this was a documentary, while the next minute his grandiose acting style would come out in full force. The thing is, though, I fucking hated Tony Soprano, as a character he was an asshole, backstabber, liar, selfish sonuvabitch who’s only saving grace at times seemed to be his admiration for his family, which was even tested at times. But, like many anti-hero led shows like The Shield, Breaking Bad and Mad Men among others, even though you might hate the character, you become utterly fascinated by their machinations, what makes them tick, and everything builds up for them only for it to be torn down. Gandolfini’s real-life pain bled into Tony Soprano and it showed to a tragic end in his acting method and our finished product on screen. Drinking and drug problems, and anxiety in his own acting abilities led to his struggles and dedication to getting the character right. We’re all in debt to Gandolfini no matter what manner you like The Sopranos or any measure of TV in general. His performance paved the way for basically all the anti-hero, and strong dramatic cable dramas you see on your TV now. There aren’t enough adjectives for me to continually describe how great Gandolfini was in The Sopranos, as well as everything else he did, and doing so would just be redundant.

While The Sopranos was Gandolfini’s break-out role, and one in which he was the lead star, he was just as great and memorable in bit film parts throughout his career that always carried weight no matter how long he spent on screen. Whether it was in True Romance, The Mexican, The Man Who Wasn’t There, In The Loop, Zero Dark Thirty or the presence of his inimitable voice in Where The Wild Things Are, Gandolfini was never featured all that prominently in film, but he was always recognized and remembered, sometimes providing humour or just by being that looming figure that lurked on the edges of the entire film. Even as recent as one of his last films in Killing Them Softly, one I wasn’t overly fond of, but through it like always, Gandolfini’s performance, as with the others, helped hold the film together and provide some humanistic elements that Gandolfini’s raw power always seems to deliver.

It’s still hard for me to comprehend that James Gandolfini isn’t with us anymore. Of course, I’ve never met him or anything like that, but The Sopranos is so much of a part of me and the cornerstone of why I like the medium of TV in the first place, it feels like I’m missing a part of me. James Gandolfini and the show as a whole gave me so much towards what you could do on television, how it could be bette than film, the performances it could harvest, the deep rooted themes it could explore, and the connections that could be built over 6 seasons and 86 episodes. We all owe Gandolfini a debt of gratitude for all the blood, sweat and tears that he shed for the show, the character, and the medium that saw a mini revolution under his eyes. While James Gandolfini is no longer with us, Tony Soprano still is and will always be, along with countless other memorable performances, laying in wait just ready to show us a side of Gandolfini that we never recognized before, an alternative view to a masterpiece.

‘House Of Cards’: Season 1 Review

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We’re only talking about House Of Cards because of its method of delivery. It’s a slightly below average show that is only getting large press because of it’s revolutionary mode of having the entire first season available at one time on the streaming service Netflix. Well, there’s the Kevin Spacey and David Fincher draw as well, but even big stars like that get washed over after awhile. That’s the thing though, Netflix knew they needed to play it safe, having a show with equal draw to all demographic as their first foray into original television. House Of Cards is a straight-down the middle show, not too controversial to appeal to all, but with some racy elements to satisfy the “cable” drama type viewers, everybody likes political intrigue and behind-the-door dealings, and like I said earlier, has the draw of Spacey and Fincher with a great actor and an auteur with his own stylistic flourishes. Hemlock Grove is too niche and genre to start out with and altough Arrested Development has devoted fans, it’s too segregated to start out of the gate with it. House Of Cards is perfect because it’s just so average, not terrible, but no “Sopranos,” ‘Breaking Bad,’ or ‘The Shield.’ either, it’s just there.

On a more base content level, ‘House Of Cards’ is like ‘Entourage.’ Yes, that HBO “comedy” series of a few months back with a couple good seasons at the start, and some godawful ones that killed its early success. More specifically, Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood is exactly like Adrian Grenier’s Vinny Chase in that aforementioned show. At the start of any given episode or season of ‘Entourage’ Vinny and his crew might be faced with getting fired from a movie, or getting into money troubles or with the law, but rest assured these problems or obstacles agains the main character aren’t faced for long, by the end of the episode or season, everything is neatly and easily tied up, and Vinny remains on top of the world with no problems. This is how House Of Cards treats Frank Underwood, he might get down for the better part of an episode, but always comes out on top, unscathed and better than everybody else. Nothing drags him down for an extended period of time. Whether it’s troubles with an eduction bill and its opponents, his handling of Peter Russo or his maneuvering into a possible Vice-Presidency slot, he never faces obstacles that have everlasting repercussions. It’s hard to get behind or invest yourself in a character or show when the dramatic tension and events are always skewed towards the main characters’ victories, and by sticking to this plan it ruins surprises or twists, or in actuality makes them non-existent as the end result can be clearly seen as choreographed to Underwood’s end.

Whereas it was hard for me to fully understand the characertization of Underwood and how he was being manipulated to an easy end by the writers, Corey Stoll’s character Peter Russo who was running for Governor of Pennsylvania became  my favourite character and best storyline of the entire show. Russo was a flawed as a drug addict and alcoholic, but who at his heart was a good man who wanted change for his constituents, and after getting clean was well on the way towards his goals. Of course, Underwood was behind the scenes pulling the strings and ultimately led to his death, both physically and strategically. Russo worked as a character and storyline because there was always a tinge of uncertainty, whether it be with his addictions, his family and significant other relationships, his dealing as a political leader and connections to the larger world of politics. Nothing was set in stone with Russo, and unlike Underwood who you could always see the directions of his moves, Russo could go either way, and it was understandable within the show and believable for him either way to fall back or spring forward. Corey Stoll did fantastic work in his limited run, and I’m concerned for the show going forward that its best element of the season and one which was the most consistent is by and large gone.

I enjoy Robin Wright as an actor, and she was largely good in this, but was hardly  given anything of great heft to do, and was subsequently left hanging around the sidelines. I’d love for her to take a step forward in the next season and get an actual, you know, storyline where she can stretch her legs (figuratively and literally would be nice……) and maybe become an antagonistic force to her husband or others, as it seemed the way they pushed her slightly in the first season. Her relationship with her husband is interesting in their love for each other running alongside a equal parallel of distance and separation between the two. Broadening this out into a storyline or a catalyst for a motivation on her end towards her husband, with lasting ramifications would do wonders to separate herself and give her some room to operate. I’m a fan of Kate Mara as well, she’s a decent actor and fine to look at, and although that’s what we got to start the show, she became more and more a problem and nuisance as the season went on. At first she was a main component of the show, forcing her way up the newspaper ranks, beginning a sexual relationship with Underwood in exchange for scoops that she used to further herself. Unfortuantely, this fizzled into nothing, and her character had little to no bearing on the events of the close of the season. Usually these storylines would dovetail with the larger goings-on, but nothing fell from it that was worth any weigh at all. She just remained on the fringes and further drifting away from the centre of the show. It seems like she’s being set up to further dig into Underwood’s administration now that they are at odds, it could be fun, who knows, all I do is that they should’ve killed her off instead of Russo.

House Of Cards is just there, it doesn’t really push anything forwards too much and is nothing we haven’t seen in a thousand other shows. It just has an inside edge and advantage, not because of its content, but because how we were exposed to it and supposed to view it. These outside factors shouldn’t affect how we understand the show, view and criticize it, but unfortunately in some circles it seems like it has. It has the potential to be a great show as long it doesn’t wallow in the storylines and easy decisions that will guarantee viewers, but never pushing into anything worthy of thinking about or reading into beyond entertainment and escape. I think they could do it, but I really doubt they want to.