Saturday, 23 April 2011

On 23.4.11 by KieronMoore in ,    No comments
Those who regularly follow my blog (all two of you) will know that my favourite TV series of all time is David Simon’s critically acclaimed The Wire. For this reason, I was of course excited to watch Simon’s new HBO series Treme, with the focus shifted from life on the crime-addled streets of Baltimore to the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans.Many features reminiscent of The Wire are present in Treme, which follows a similar structure. The pre-credits scene, the title montage, the dismissal of conventional storytelling devices (save for the opening caption “Three months after” and one flashback in the finale) – they’re all present. Like The Wire, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters that occasionally interact and are all in their own ways dealing with the same issues. The inadequacy of governments returns as one of Simon’s favourite themes; many blame the government for the fall of the levees, one character’s brother has been lost by the prison system and the re-opening of a group of housing projects is put off while many live homeless.

Nevertheless, Treme’s heroes – the citizens of New Orleans – are determined to fight this incompetence. Professor Creighton Bernette (John Goodman, grumpier and obese-ier than ever) uses the media and the internet to draw attention to the flooding being “not a natural disaster but a man-made fucking catastrophe of epic proportions". Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) records a series of political protest songs after losing his job as a radio DJ. LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander) with her lawyer Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo, on fine form after her Oscar for The Fighter) fights the legal system in search of clues as to her brother’s fate. Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), a Mardi Gras Indian chief, stages a sit-in protest in the projects. These characters are determined to rebuild their city and not to give up against adversity from nature and from politics. (Interestingly, (SPOILERS!) the one who does give up and throw himself into a river is the middle-class white academic – possibly a comment on the determination of the black working classes, it’s hard to imagine Big Chief Lambreaux, who faces much worse destruction, doing the same. He was one of the less likable characters anyway.)

Thus, while Treme has the realism of The Wire, it is a much less gritty and depressing realism. From comparing these two series, the impression is given that New Orleans is a happier place than Baltimore. An enormous part of this is the music. Music is to Treme what crime is to The Wire, diegetically pervading pretty much every scene. The street performers, the Indians’ traditional a capello songs, the club trombonist, McAlary with his political protest songs, even a few cameos from Elvis Costello: it seems that everyone in Treme is a musician and indeed, maybe in New Orleans, it’s impossible not to be. Even grumpy Professor Bernette joins in at the Mardi Gras parades. New Orleans is united by its music; unlike in the gangs of The Wire, race is rarely an issue as white and black musicians play together. The celebration of this musical joie de vivre makes Treme a delight. In fact, this is the only show I can think of where I don’t want the title sequence to end, because of the marvellous "Treme Song" by John Boutté with the beautifully edited montage juxtaposing scenes of destruction with those of happiness and culture.

While some viewers may find the plot slow paced (maybe that’s an understatement; one character’s entire nine-episode storyline is “she plays music with her boyfriend and then leaves him because he’s a dick”), I feel that the pleasure of Treme is not in the plot but in the characters and the culture. The majority of the characters are indeed likeable, involving and believable; by the end of the first episode I’d already stopped thinking of Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce’s characters as Freamon and Bunk (plus, by the end of the second episode I’d stopped finding it funny when Pierce’s Antoine Batiste refers to his trombone as “my bone”).

The season ended with a funeral, New Orleans style, with a black-clad brass band and mourners being joined by passers-by as they parade the street. A sombre, yet optimistic and beautiful ending. I’ll be interested to see where season two goes; although I’m a bit nervous that there’s not much more that can be done with some of the characters who didn’t have much of a plot anyway, the Wire-style introduction of new regular characters with each season should sustain interest. Plus, the musical scenes will always be enjoyable.Overall, while Treme has not yet reached the peaks of David Simon’s more pessimistic magnum opus in terms of the mixture of social criticism, compelling character studies and the way The Wire actually had a sort of plot (ish), many of my favourite elements of The Wire are still present. Combined with a much more optimistic sense of a vibrant culture fighting against adversity, this makes Treme a joy to watch.

I wouldn’t mind visiting New Orleans sometime. As long as I don’t go via Baltimore.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

On 12.4.11 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments
The (earlier every year, overly dramatic) whirlwind of hype has begun and the nation is counting down to the latest series of Doctor Who. The sad bastards. Here's what I'm particularly looking forward to:

Matt Smith. Well, obviously. We all love Matt Smith. Hopefully, he'll get naked again. Not only for the hotness, but it would also mean that I could use the phrase "Matt Smith naked" in another blog post title and get hundreds more views from dirty-minded googlers. In the space of a few weeks, my Christopher and his Kind review has become my most read article ever.

Neil Gaiman. Admittedly, I haven't read any of his work, but, in order to defend my nerd credentials, I feel obliged to be excited about his episode.

The new villains. The way Steven Moffat can really make his mark on the Whoniverse (I believe that's a word) is to introduce a new major villain to compete with the iconic status of the Daleks and the Cybermen. Indeed it seems, with the promotional material showing off the Silence, he is attempting to do so. Moffat's creations are always good at utilising the viewers' fears, a trend which, judging from this promotional image, he's continuing with the Silence. This time, it's the fear of unironed clothing. Just look at all the creases... if you can cope with it! The scruffy bugger.

Hats. Lots of hats. Stetsons, space suit hats, pirate hats, Nazi hats, Sontar-hats, hopefully even a fez. Hats are cool.

In the meantime, Whovians looking to keep themselves busy should consider going out and getting a fucking social life helping out this fellow nerd (both a science fiction and actual science nerd) who is writing a book on Doctor Who and the autism spectrum and would like people to respond to a research questionnaire. It seems like an interesting project; I've had a go myself and thought I might as well share my answers:

Doctor Who Autism

Saturday, 9 April 2011

On 9.4.11 by KieronMoore in ,    No comments
A biopic of John F. Kennedy starring Greg Kinnear should not be bad. He's an Oscar nominated (if you've not seen As Good as It Gets, see As Good as It Gets) actor with an appearance very similar to JFK. 1960s American culture is stylish and fashionable, as Mad Men has shown. It would be a remarkable feat to bugger this up.

Yet this latest American import, The Kennedys, being shown on the History channel, has somehow managed to do so. Although Kinnear (along with Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper) is clearly a talented actor, his skills are wasted as he churns out poorly written, cliché-ridden dialogue.

November 8, 1960 is the setting for the first episode, as Senator Kennedy awaits the results of the presidential election. His family's past is revealed in a series of dull flashbacks - these are brought in with a sound effect so bad it must have been added ironically and are depicted, because it's the early 20th century, in a hideously vomitus-inspired colour palette.

While the main performances are all strong, especially Wilkinson as John's father Joe Kennedy, Sr, many of the supporting actors give painfully wooden performances. In some cases, though, I feel I have to let them off and blame the writer or director - those playing the audiences of two speeches Kennedy makes in his political campaign, for example, must surely have realised the overly ridiculous nature of their actions. He hesitates too much on his first speech, everyone shakes their heads wildly in dismay. He opens up about his dead brother to the Gold Star Mothers, the applause that follows is more crazed than at a Justin Bieber concert.

By far the most irritating element of The Kennedys is the music. Oh, the music. It won't stop. Why won't it stop? Every scene, every insignificant little conversation, the same excessively dramatic piece of music. It's the kind of soaring music that glorifies American politics in an annoyingly über-patriotic manner. This crass American flag waving is also notable, quite literally, in the flag being waved around in the cringeworthy title sequence (accompanied by that music again, of course), as well as the colours of the US flag being used for the on-screen captions that show up every three minutes to tell us it's still 1960.

Greg and Barry were enjoying this job until the composer played them his work. All 8 episodes of it.

The influence of the American History network is noticeable, as historical facts are crammed into every line - educational, perhaps, but from a dramatic perspective, the density of the historical references feels more forced than the abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots. The problem here is that The Kennedys jumps through so many events in a steadily fast pace, without giving the viewer time to connect with the characters and, well, care. These events could be interesting if we spent a bit more time following the characters and their emotions rather than moving objectively on to show some more facts for us to forget (Mad Men, in comparison, gets this right - watch that for a mix of good character drama with a historiographical look at 60s culture and events).

Looking at The Kennedys like this, it may be the kind of programme that, in a few years time, will litter every school's history department in dodgily recorded onto DVD form for when the teachers want an easy lesson. However, I doubt many left-oriented history teachers in America will want to show this to their students - despite some scenes showing JFK's idealism, the Kennedy family, especially Joe Sr, are portrayed as ambitious, power hungry schemers. I'm not sure how accurate this is, but many took offence to this in the States, leading their History network to decide not to show it.

But really, I must question whether they really made this decision based on politics. Perhaps they looked at The Kennedys and realised that, taking two Oscar-nominated actors, a powerful political dynasty and an exciting time of great change that's currently a fashionable setting, it is indeed possible to produce an utterly cack-handed wadge of tedium.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

On 3.4.11 by KieronMoore in , ,    2 comments
A post-modern sketch I wrote which parodies Mad Men :

Mad Men Parody

I enjoyed exaggerating all the 1960s traits of the characters, such as the alcoholism and sexism. Don's overly traumatic past and powerful image were also fun targets to play with. Hey, I have to do something to get my fix in the long wait until season 5!

Don Draper approves this work. And takes credit for it.