One of the enduring themes of David Simon’s award-winning series The Wire is the idea of the quiet apocalypse and of a society that is drifting into terminal decline not because of war or disease or alien invasion but because of stupidity, selfishness and the fundamental short-sighted perversity of human nature. After an uneven attempt at tackling the War in Iraq with Generation Kill (2008), Treme sees Simon teaming up with fellow Wire alumnus Eric Overmyer to take another look at America’s inevitable end. However, unlike The Wire, there is nothing quiet about Treme’s apocalypse as the end of this particular world was caused by Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the New Orleans levees that flooded the city leaving thousands of New Orleans residents, dead, disenfranchised and scattered to the four corners of a nation that simply did not care about the destruction of one of its most historical and culturally vibrant cities. Treme is about the on-going attempts by the residents of New Orleans to rebuild their lives and their city. Treme is a story about community and returning home but, as you might expect from a series helmed by David Simon, the picture of community it paints is far from idyllic.
If I had to compare Treme to any other TV series of recent times, my choice would be to compare it to David Milch’s gritty western drama Deadwood in that both series are character-based dramas and both series are ultimately about the evolution of the community that these characters are a part of. However, while Milch’s series allowed the characters to dictate the action by effectively having them to walk out their door and interact with whoever happened to be walking past, Simon’s series is far more traditionally structured. Treme is built around a series of more or less discrete emotional communities composed of characters who interact chiefly with each other.
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Videovista have my review of season seven on Monk.
Given that Monk (in the UK at least) is a daytime TV detective series that appeals mostly to old people, I think it is fair enough to say that it is somewhat off the beaten path in terms of stuff I normally think and write about. Hell… it’s not the type of thing I normally watch let alone review! However, despite it being quite formulaic, quite repetitive and really not particularly intelligent, I rapidly found myself warming to the way in which the writers were able to take a small number of ideas and themes and keep returning to them again and again without those ideas ever coming across as in anyway tired. Given that most of my genre-related reading and watching tends to focus upon works that transcend and question genre boundaries, I found it fascinating to watch a TV series that is quite content to play within the boundaries of the genre:
While Murder, She Wrote, The Father Dowling Mysteries and Diagnosis Murder may all feature crime-fighting pensioners; only Monk tells the story of a character whose life genuinely resembles that of an older person. Weighed down by fears, doubts and a variety of weird mental compulsions that make it difficult for him to deal with the realities of 21st Century life, Monk lives the sort of awkward and fragile existence common to older people. He even has a carer and struggles with ‘new-fangled’ technology such as the Internet. While Monk may ultimately be little more than lightweight fluff that shamelessly panders to a demographic of which I am not a part, I cannot deny that I enjoyed watching it. You simply have to marvel at a series that does so much with so little!
Videovista have my review of The Dark Angel, a British TV miniseries based upon J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas (1864):
If judged as a thriller then The Dark Angel suffers for the fact that Uncle Silas is very much a book that is ‘of its time’.
While the TV series is, in and of itself, perfectly watchable, I could not quite get over the extent to which a) the plot reminded me of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859) and b) quite how superior The Woman in White is to the content of this series.
Videovista have my review of ITV’s recent miniseries Marchlands:
Those who approach Marchlands expecting a traditional Jamesian ghost story are destined for disappointment. Marchlands is not scary, or creepy, or even particularly tense, and the few supernatural set-pieces the series does contain are fiercely derivative and quite poorly implemented by two writers and a director who are clearly incapable of moving beyond the increasingly shop-worn genre ornaments of dead pets and ghostly dripping water.
I then go on to explain that, even if one judges Marchlands not as a ghost story but as a drama, it is still a sexist, stupid and boring piece of television.
Videovista has my review of series one of Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy.
Though nominally a ‘review’, the piece is really more of an essay about the creation of genre expectations through aesthetic framing. In particular, I argue that Mad Men apes the art house aesthetic and narrative styles in order to create an impression of intelligence whereas Sons of Anarchy looks as dumb as a bag of hammers despite being actually quite a clever and involved piece of writing. Dig:
Sons Of Anarchy is about the attempt to recreate a state of nature in the modern world. It examines families, tribes, organisations and states and looks at how distrust, individualism and selfishness have not only rotted out all of these institutions but also made it almost impossible for us to return to a state in which we do work together and trust each other as equal, free individuals. Sons Of Anarchy speaks to the very heart of human politics and it does so not by using long-takes and awkward silences to hint at the deep inner lives of middle-class professionals, it does so by having a load of hairy tattooed men shoot machine-guns at each other.