June 2016 TV

Shows I kept current with: Animal Kingdom, Cleverman, Inside Amy Schumer, Game of Thrones, New Blood, Orphan Black, Outlander, Peaky Blinders, Penny Dreadful, Preacher, The Americans, The Graham Norton Show, The Musketeers, UnREAL, Veep

Pilots tried: Braindead

june2016tv

Things of note:

Animal Kingdom

I was semi-intrigued but not super impressed by the pilot for this, but we are now seven episodes in and I think I love this show?

I remember the Australian movie that it’s based on being a big deal in certain circles in 2010; Jackie Weaver was nominated for an Academy Award1 and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for it and I think most of us were just like, what the fuck is Animal Kingdom? I still haven’t watched said movie and now it appeals even less, since I’d probably want the characters in the movie to be the same as the characters in the TV show, and I supect that they’re basically not, except for in name. At least based on the movie’s Wikipedia summary, it looks like the TV show has already diverged from it significantly, in terms of plot, character, and, obviously, setting, since it’s transplanted from Australia to Southern California.

So, the premise: J.’s mother dies of an overdose, and he goes to live with his estranged grandmother, Smurf. Her sons, Pope, Craig, Deran, and (adopted) Baz, don’t technically still live at home, but are basically always there because they’re a crime family with massive Oedipus complexes.

ANIMAL KINGDOM S1
Craig (Ben Robson), Baz (Scott Speedman), and Deran (Jake Weary). I think this is a promo still and this specific shot doesn’t actually occur in the pilot, but this is more or less how we (the audience) are first introduced to these characters in the show and how J. is first reintroduced to his uncles after not seeing them for, like, a decade.

Craig, Baz, and Deran are also just, like, these ludicrously tall dudes with great hair who each have at least one shirtless scene per episode2. I suspect that a lot of the shots in which they appear with either J. or Smurf are composed specifically to emphasize the ridiculous height differences; I imagine Finn Cole, who plays, J., is a normal sized dude irl, and pictures of the cast together on press tours seem to confirm this (it appears that Ben Robson is legit huge, though), but he looks tiny on the show. Probably intentional to highlight his outsider status and the fact that he’s supposed3 to still be a teenager among all of these adults, which works from a visual storytelling perspective, even if that’s not how puberty works—unless they’re super late bloomers, most 17-year-olds will have already hit their adult heights, I think?

Anyway, it’s very Point Break in the glorious machismo of it all—surfing, paintball, racing, drugs, sex, crime, etc. But the most glorious, to me, is that all of the brothers’ arguments seem to devolve into wrestling in more and more absurd situations. Dudes wrestling underwater whilst competing to see who can hold their breath the longest! Dudes wrestling whilst skydiving! Amazing. And the more amazing because the context would seem to indicate that the show isn’t celebrating the Performance of Masculinity; most of it is undercut by the fact that these ludicrously tall dudes are all completely reliant—financially, certainly, but also to a pretty large extent, emotionally—on this tiny 60-something woman (i.e. their mother).

What else?

Love J.’s constant expression of disdain. He’s so not impressed by any of the brothers’ macho posturing and is kind of just going along with his uncles’ plans because they’re scary and unstable and he could use the cash. Maybe in the first episode there was the sense that he enjoyed the power that came with the criminal lifestyle? But mostly he’s like, “you know I have school, right?” and clearly has limits to the bullshit he’s willing to put up with—he almost left after the pool-wrestling incident with Deran, until Smurf dangled that hint about his father’s identity to lure him back in, and possibly the whole thing with Nicky may have been enough to convince him to become an informant (episode 9 is called “Judas Kiss,” so…we’ll see). It seems that J. has his own agenda (finding out who the fuck his father is, for one) and his own weird Oedipus complex, rather than just serving as an audience surrogate into the family’s life or a naive youth to be corrupted. Also lol at Finn Cole’s two major roles so far being so specifically similar, at least in the setup, if not how the character arc eventually plays out—young men with connections to a criminal family who grew up outside of the enterprise and are being warily welcomed in and seduced by the lifestyle. Presumably this is because the casting directors of Animal Kingdom watched Peaky Blinders and weren’t feeling very creative, but I like the idea that there’s just something about the dude’s face that makes you think, “yep, that dude looks like he may not be a criminal himself, yet, but he definitely has relatives who are.”

The pacing has been pretty solid; like, questions are raised—Who the fuck is J.’s father? What exactly was the relationship between Pope, Julia, and Baz? What happened in Belize? etc.—and based on how information has been parceled out so far, the audience has faith that all will be revealed in good time, which is not always the case with shows.

Interesting—and I mean, very well done –how Baz has gone from the seemingly most sympathetic uncle to the most threatening one. Well, maybe tied with Pope. I don’t know, is menacing charm more threatening than creepy instability? Anyway, Scott Speedman is super charming, but I should not try to revisit his dumb submarine show Last Resort, probably, and at least in the few episodes of Felicity that I watched, all of his scenes were too cringe-inducing (because of the actual premise of Felicity, not necessarily any bad writing or acting) for me to appreciate his presence.

People have apparently been comparing Deran—the angry, closeted brother—to Mickey Milkovich in Shameless, which: fair enough. (John Wells is involved with both series, although maybe that doesn’t mean much.) I do find that sort of character super appealing to watch, and I don’t really want to think too hard about what that says about me. It’s much harder to root for Deran/Adrian than for Mickey/Ian, and I don’t know that we’re even meant to root for Deran/Adrian, because it is a much less ambiguously abusive relationship than Mickey and Ian’s may have been at times. As in, Deran gets Pope to throw Adrian’s current boyfriend off a boat in the middle of the night and then still expects Adrian to be into him. Part of this is, I think, that the Cody brothers are so desensitized to violence from their lifestyle that they genuinely can’t understand it when people take violence so seriously or personally—see also the scene where Craig is going to beat up Sage at Renn’s behest and is basically like4, “dude, can you just be cool about this?” But also Deran is an aggressive asshole in a way that can’t be fully attributed to and thus sympathized away by his angst about his sexuality, and unlike a lot of similar characters, we don’t really have a sense that he has a legitimate reason to hide his sexuality, other than his own internalized macho bullshit.

J. knows and doesn’t give a shit; from episode 3:

J.: I just wanted to say that I didn’t see anything the other day. In the bathroom at the beach. And either way, I don’t care.

Craig knows and, verbatim, doesn’t give a shit; from episode 7:

CRAIG: Where’s Adrian?
DERAN: I don’t know. He took off. Who cares?
CRAIG: I don’t give a shit who you have sex with, man. Why do you think I invited him? I don’t want to talk about this either, but just don’t be an asshole. Adrian’s a good guy, and this shit is embarrassing.

“This shit” being, presumably, overtly making out with chicks at parties and pretending not to care about Adrian. This seems like a touching brotherly moment, but it’s a bit rich for Craig to advise anyone not to be an asshole wrt to romantic relationships, considering he robbed and left for dead the girl he was seeing after finding her ODed on the floor of her apartment. Also considering that later in this episode he is shown hooking up with the chick that Deran was just overtly making out with, so there was perhaps some opportunism to this brotherly advice giving.

Possibly, the concern is Smurf’s reaction, but given that we see her having sex with a woman in episode 5, it doesn’t seem like homophobia is necessarily the problem, and it also seems unlikely that there’s anything she doesn’t already know about her sons. Still:

ADRIAN: Is this how it’s gonna work? Every time I meet a guy, you send someone to almost kill him? Oh, it’s sick, Smurf’s hold over you. You know that, right?
DERAN: Look, this has nothing to do with Smurf.
ADRIAN: Bullshit. It has everything to do with her. What would Smurf do with a son who doesn’t want to screw her? That’s your biggest fear, isn’t it? Being out in the cold without Mommy’s love?

God, the Oedipal shit on this show. (It also seems super likely, at this point, that J. is the product of twincest.)


New Blood

This just aired on BBC One, and it was a super fun entry into the crime procedural genre. Definitely helped by the fact that it’s only seven episodes divided into three investigative arcs, but mostly helped by the fact that the leads look like this:

New Blood Episode 1
Arrash ‘Rash’ Sayyad (Ben Tavassoli) and Stefan Kowolski (Mark Strepan)

And, I mean, the characters are really cute, as a pair but also as individuals, in a way that was sort of unexpected given how Dark and Gritty the show seemd like it was going to be based on the description and the aesthetics of the promo stills. The progression of their relationship is also, like, insane. So, Rash is a Trainee Detective Constable, Stefan is a junior investigator for the Serious Fraud Office:

  • In episode 1, Stefan hits on Rash’s sister before he and Rash both go on to compete in some sort of race (marathon? triathlon? idk sports) and end up tying for second.
  • In episode 2, Stefan’s drink is spiked during an undercover investigation, and he ends up stumbling into traffic, only to be saved by Rash, who ends up playing caretaker to the super high Stefan for the rest of the night and brings him home to sleep it off on his couch. They learn each other’s names the next morning.
  • In episode 3, Stefan and Rash collaborate to investigate a criminal conspiracy and both lose their jobs as they get too close to the truth. They jump off a building together while running away from assassins. Stefan asks Rash to look into buying a flat with him.
  • (In episodes 4-5, there’s a bunch of dithering about the flat business, as Rash tries to look for his own place and Stefan tries to convince him that they should live together. Also, investigations of crimes and fraud that lead to Rash and Stefan being tied up in a container ship and Stefan has to try to retrieve Rash’s cellphone from his inside jacket pocket using only his feet.)
  • In episode 6, Stefan and Rash are actively seeking out apartments together.
  • In episode 7, Stefan and Rash escape a burning car (Rash gets stuck and is like, “bro, just leave me” and of course Stefan is like, “bro, I could never leave you”), only to realize they’re late for their interview with the apartment manager and, in a callback to their first meeting, race on foot to the apartment building. By the end of the episode, they’re throwing a housewarming party.

Insane, right? Also, the London housing situation is an underlying theme/driving force behind the crimes investigated in the series, so it all comes together very nicely, but Jesus Christ, that is hilariously fast-moving and intense for a “bromance” (ugh that term).

Both characters are second-generation immigrants, which is still a sort of cool and noteworthy writing choice, especially with this airing at around the same time as Brexit, I would imagine. It’s not like they explicitly talk about their backgrounds all the time—and in fact, the character biographies on the program website reveal more about them than the show ever does—but it does seem to inform how they handle certain situations. Stefan’s go-to move for getting out of sticky situations is to put on a Polish accent, or better yet, just start speaking in Polish, because he knows it will make people overlook him or not want to put in the effort of dealing with him, whereas Rash’s move—showing his badge—is kind of the opposite, in asserting authority and Britishness. Which to some extent may just be the difference in their personalities and occupations, but is probably largely because of the difference in the British perception of Polish people vs Iranian people (not being British, I could not tell you exactly what that is, but I can make an educated guess).


 

1. Melissa Leo ended up winning Best Supporting Actress for The Fighter. Also, note that these were the Oscars where the Best Picture nominees were The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone which feels like an especially weird slate of movies. Jennifer Lawrence was only just becoming a Name and showed up for Winter’s Bone in that red Calvin Klein dress, pre-terrible Dior contract and pre-David O. Russell.^
2. This is almost definitely reading way too much into it, but the casting of those three comes across to me as a nod to the fact that the show is an adaptation of an Australian movie, since we have this idea of Australian brothers = Hemsworths, even though no Hemsworths were actually in the original Animal Kingdom. The more likely explanation is just that that is what we expect surfer dudes to look like, whether in Australia or California. ^
3. Not sure how reliable it is, but the Peaky Blinders wiki claims that Finn Cole is 20 (born in 1995), which is not the most ludicrous age to be playing a 17-year-old by TV standards. I definitely assumed he was my age or older, because I’m so used to the actors playing teenagers on TV being older than me. Well, we still have the majority of the Teen Wolf cast for a little longer, I guess, although I quit that show after season 4. ^
4. Verbatim, because it is a joy:

CRAIG: I have to mess you up a little.
SAGE: What?
CRAIG: It’s a shitty situation for the both of us.
SAGE: Who are you?
CRAIG: Maybe a black eye, make you bleed a little, and then you’re gonna run down the street screaming, okay? Doesn’t have to be a big deal.

^

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