HBO aired a new trailer for the upcoming season of Game of Thrones last night, which I’m pretty sure the network is going to try and rework into The Peter Dinklage Show. This season looks like it’s shaping up to be pretty good, but this trailer is disturbingly lacking in boobs and gratuitous sex, so we’ll have to wait until April to know for sure.
There invariably comes a time, while watching movies like Rango or playing video games like Battlefield 3 where we say, “They’re almost there.” It’ll only be a few years before we can’t tell the difference between what we’re seeing on the screen and real life. It’ll only be a few years before this sort of media won’t be able to look any better. It’ll be as real and lifelike as it can ever get. To a certain extent, the same applies to TV shows. Despite the ungodly amount of shit we see on our screens, we are living in a sort of golden age when it comes to television.
But unlike computer animated lizards or soldiers blowing each other up, television’s golden age is much farther along. This isn’t only about moving away from your typical procedurals (YES there’s room for both, you bastards) and toward more character-driven shows, but shows that take entire seasons to pay off. Shows that are built more like novels than they are TV shows, sometimes going off on tangents just to give us a better idea of who these people are. And in discovering that, helping us to see beauty and meaning in the mundane, without having to worry about cliffhangers coming every ten minutes to keep us in our seats through the commercial breaks. Shows that are meant to be experienced almost as much as they’re meant to be watched. And despite offerings like Real Sex, G String Divas, and Dane Cook’s Tourgasm, HBO is kind of leading the charge.
Two writers — David Milch and David Simon — broke new ground with these sorts of shows with Deadwood and The Wire, and those shows paved the way for Luck and Treme, but since we’re talking about Luck here, I’ll try and only talk about Luck**.
(**I have a lot of feelings about Treme — a lot of problems, too — that I’ll talk about at another time. But despite my problems with it, it’s the only other show I can think of that approaches what Milch has done with Luck, or at least tries to.)
I suppose there’s a fear out there that Luck, entrenched in the world of horse racing, isn’t going to be accessible to the typical Philistine viewer. And that’s true. There comes a point where all the Pick Six stuff goes over your head and you have to just kind of go with it. Still, I think the show offers enough for everyone to relate to. At its heart — and after only one episode maybe it’s too early to say — I think Luck is a show about people who the world’s passed by. From Dustin Hoffman’s Ace Bernstein, who’s just come off a three-year prison stretch to Nick Nolte as a grizzled (I think I’m the first person to use that word) ex-trainer who’s still trying to live down the death of one of his horses. Those things, coupled with the always-half-empty Santa Anita racetrack lend to this feeling that while there may be better days ahead, the days behind us were pretty damn good, too. And by the time we get to the pilot’s final race, there comes a moment where we can feel the sun on our face, feel the chill in the air and link it to some past memory, something we miss. Even if racing isn’t your thing, I imagine we’ll all have some passing interest in it by the time the first season’s over.
Of course, this show wouldn’t be a fifth of what it is if it weren’t for the people behind it; that perfect storm of David Milch (please be seated), Michael Mann and Dustin Hoffman. There’s not much we can say about Milch that hasn’t been said already. It’s only been a few short years since John from Cincinnati crashed and burned, and Deadwood’s premature death still hurts, so we’re happy to have him back. But in a lot of ways, Michael Mann is the one who brings the show to life. When we come to that final race at the end of the pilot, it’s him who breathes life into something most of us have little to no experience with, making us realize only once it’s all over that we’ve been sitting on the edge of our seats, our hands covering our mouths the entire time. Dustin Hoffman is as good as he’s ever been, but in this first episode, coming out of prison the way he is, he’s still trying to get his feet under him. Right now he’s kind of orbiting the racetrack, trying to work his way back into that world. His best moments are still to come.
There’s a lot going on here, and if you’ve seen the preview for the rest of the season you know that eventually it’s going to get pretty heavy. But, being David Milch and HBO, you also know it’s going to be a slow burn. And because things here in the pilot are only just getting set up, it’s best to watch the show once and enjoy it before you start to analyze things. There’s a lot here that could turn people away, but I think there’s a feeling about this show, and shared experience that could really bring people in.
Author’s note: I make no apologies for being a David Milch apologist. One episode in and I already love this show. My first draft of this review said only: THE BEST, scrawled in crayon on a picture of Dustin Hoffman and a horse. I’ll try and be more objective in the future, but no promises.
A lot’s happened in Harlan, Kentucky since last we saw our intrepid hero. Well, not much has happened, actually. Which is just as well, since aside from Margo Martindale showing up out of nowhere and stealing our hearts as Mags Bennet, matriarch of the Bennet clan, there’s not much we remember. It’s been three weeks since Raylan was shot, and he’s spent that time trying to recuperate. Spending hours down at the shooting range, shooting everyone but the target, then giving the empty room the shifty eye, making sure no one’s around to see how off his game he is. But whether Raylan’s shooting bullseyes or nothing at all, it’s just nice to have Justified back in our lives.
This was a show that really tried catering to the casual viewer in its first season. While those first few episodes focused on the bad guy of the week, the show eventually threw all that stuff out about halfway through the season to focus on a more serialized story it had quietly been laying track for in the background, focusing on the fight between Raylan and Boyd we all knew was coming. It turns out that Justified the serial was way better than Justified the procedural, and it’s been a happy marriage ever since.
“The Gunfighter” set up another long arc we’ll see play itself out over the course of the season. This time the baddy is being played by Neal McDonough, Hollywood’s favorite albino, best remembered for his role as that guy who died in Star Trek: First Contact. What’s interesting about his character is, well, we don’t really know. At this point we just see him as that all-knowing, all-powerful businessman. He has connections, money, and BIG plans for Harlan County. And with his smooth talk, ruthlessness, and crazy James Bond gun up his sleeve, Raylan looks to have met his match.
Just as interesting, maybe even more so, is the man McDonough’s character is Fletcher “Icepick” Nicks — who you may recognize as professional dick Joey Quinn from Dexter — another shadowy underworld type set on Raylan’s trail. Nicks makes the mistake of so many TV bad guys before him: not killing his victims right at the start. He’s got a game he likes to play, setting his gun down between him and whoever he’s come to kill, counting down from 10, giving them the chance to go for it, right before stabbing their hand with an icepick, taking the gun and shooting them in the head. Rookie mistake, and it doesn’t work on Raylan. When confronted with the game, Raylan simply pulls the table cloth, and the gun, toward him and shoots Nicks in the chest. I honestly don’t know if it killed him. I hope not, because I’d like to see him come back at some point in the season. Although I guess the only way he could do that now would be from prison. Hmm.
Anyway, Raylan, his manhood confirmed, is ready to get down to business. F*** this bleeding hole in his side. He’s got bad guys to catch.
There was something special about Margo Martindale on this show that we may never see again, but McDonough — and Icepick, if he sticks (R.I.P. COMEDY) around — look like they’re going to deliver a story as good as anything we’ve seen on the show so far. After only one episode, things are still a little murky, but after two seasons, I think we can trust the show to deliver the goods.
And let’s not forget that McDonough and whatever he’s doing is only half of the show. Walton Goggins is back for more, which is as it should be. After throwing Raylan through a glass window for not handing over Dickie Bennet to him last season, he’s sent to big house to wreak all sorts of havoc. Boyd’s fight with Raylan may have been a little over the top, just trying to get the character back in prison. But if being back in jail means Boyd will get to spend some more time with Dewey Crowe, I can look past it.
And of course, the women. Natalie Zea (my old girlfriend) is pregnant. And I doubt she’ll approve of Raylan running all over the state, getting shot in the stomach. And how many times can a girl be taken hostage before she gets the hell out of that relationship? Ava’s back, too, taking the reigns of Boyd’s fledgling and maybe-over-before-it’s-begun weed business. As much as I love these ladies, it sometimes seems like the show keeps them around just to class up the joint. They both had more interesting things to do last season than they did in season one, so hopefully that trend will continue.
I’m sure there’s some chess metaphor that applies to all the pieces the show is setting up right now, but it doesn’t really seem to apply for a show set in Kentucky. So… a hootenanny? A hootenanny. And hard apple cider. Nothing? Nevermind.
I won’t be reviewing Justified every week. But I’ll be poking my head in a few times this season to see how things are shaping up.
My One Gripe With This Episode:
- DOES THE ENTIRE EFFING PLANET KNOW ABOUT TOMMY BUCKS???!!!
A new year. Filled with promise and hope. Then managing expectations. Then justification, self-loathing, wash, rinse, repeat. With the new year comes a few changes in our regularly scheduled programming. Some won’t affect you much. Others, well, still won’t affect you. But you may find them interesting in some untenable imaginary universe I just thought up.
Effective IMMEDIATELY, I’m no longer going to be doing weekly reviews of shows like The Office and 30 Rock. The reasons for this are many. Well, actually, there are only a few. One, I’m tired of saying the same things about shows like The Office over and over again week after week. No, the show’s not as good as it used to be. I know it and so do you, so I don’t need to keep reminding you. Two, with shows like 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm, I find that reviews more often than not turn into recaps or “things I liked best” lists. And unless we’re discussing these shows in the context of their growth over many seasons, or comparing them to other sitcoms, I’m not convinced there’s much worth in taking them apart critically. And if that is what you’re doing, it’s not a conversation you need to be having every week. Of course, that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.
That’s not to say I’ll be completely ignoring these shows going forward. I’ll be poking my head in from time to time and chiming in at different points in the season. I imagine that between now and the end of its run The Office will do something fresh and interesting. Although I’ve been burned before.
So don’t fret! There are a lot of good dramas coming up in the next few months I’ll be looking at, including Luck, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and… *shudder* The Killing. This year I’ll also be going back and looking at a few older shows I think people will enjoy. That I think you’ll enjoy. Because you’re the only one who’ll read this. The only one.
The future is now! Netflix has a trailer out for their first original series, the Norwegian/Mob/Crime/Thriller/Comedy Lilyhammer, starring Sopranos star Steven Van Zandt, which I thought was a joke at first. Netflix’s (I call it the ‘Flix, not to be confused with Flix) press release touts the fact that when the show premieres next month, all 8 first season episodes will be available for streaming. So take this as just another nail in the coffin of the conventional television business model we’ve all been worshiping for so many years. At least in its current incarnation. Netflix is only one in a pack of a scrappy upstarts — Hulu and Xbox are other names you hear popping up — throwing their hat into the original content game. Whether this new model will work out for them remains to be seen. Let the great experiment begin!
Dick Clark’s got the right idea, you guys. Take a hat and one of those blowy things and have a good time tonight. And remember, if you drink, drive home as fast as you can before you get all loud and annoying and ruin everyone else’s good time.