Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quick Hits and Misses

1.  So Jesse Pinkman has become the ideas man of the meth cooking group?  It was his idea to rob the train, and his idea to use the magnet.  While Walt and Mike are duking it out for control, Jessie is fine sitting in the background and keeping everyone out of prison and trying to be the moral voice.

Of course, this doesn't help when Jesse is so willing to go along with any idea that is presented.  In this last episode alone, he sided with Mike's idea to get $5 million, and then he sided with Walt at the end of the episode, even telling Mike it was a good plan.  So is getting $5,000,000 without putting your life in danger!

2.  We finally found the underlying motive behind Walt's desire to be the meth kingpin of New Mexico: He sold his share of a dotcom startup for $5K.  Now, Walt has a history of making bad decisions, but this one takes the cake.  That is chump change compared to the billions he would be worth now, and the billions he is trying to get back to.  He could have ruled the tech world, but now he is set on ruling the meth world.

Which would be fine, except that people keep getting killed.  And Walt pretended to be upset by this, but then he proceeded to whistle while he worked, turning into what Tony Soprano would call the "Happy F**king Wanderer."  Which Tony himself had turned into by the end of the series.

3.  Summer time is a dull time, with very few shows of interest.  NBC premiered both "Go On" and "Animal Practice," both of which I'm waiting to post my reviews of, since they were trying to capitalize on the Olympics audience, but which don't actually start their shows until September.  And my feeble mind isn't able to remember show to show what happened a month ago.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Retro Walking Dead

Summer allows me to catch up on television shows I may have missed along the way.  First I knocked out Justified and then thought I'd give The Walking Dead a try.  Talk about a deeply flawed show.  I'll just jump right into it without a lot of fancy introductory words.

1.  For the most part, it's boring.  You wouldn't think that was possible when dealing with a post-apocalyptic zombie show, but The Walking Dead manages to do it just fine.  And as far as I can tell, this can be chalked up to a lack of interesting characters.  There's nothing that sets anyone apart, there's nothing that makes them stand out, or makes me care where they came from.  Worse yet, there's nothing that makes me want them to survive.  Even though I was upset by Dale's death, because he's the one who did seem to have a different voice.

And you could argue that they made the characters real and they don't have super powers and there's nothing unrealistic about them.  But that's just the problem.  We're dealing with a show about zombies, there are things that can be unrealistic.  Make people mysterious, make them have secrets, make them have motivations that go beyond sitting around a farm all day.

2.  Which brings me to my next point.  They were on that farm for way too long!  The second season could have and probably should have been condensed into 8 episodes, there could have been less pointless conversations, and the pacing would have been better.  As it stood, though, everything moved too slow, and too many tangents had to be introduced.  And the tangents that were introduced never went anywhere.

3.  Because we deal with a world where we wonder about the fate of a small group of survivors, comparisons to Battlestar Galactica are inevitable.  Both shows deal with humanity nearly being wiped out.  Both series focus on an ongoing threat from their attackers.  Both shows have to depict a group of people trying to rebuild society.

The problem is that The Walking Dead tried to discuss the questions of what make us human, and how we need to hold onto them, but they did it poorly.  There were no good arguments, no examples that people might take other sides, no attempts to keep up morale.  Galactica mixed this in beautifully with the Cylons and Baltar; Admiral Adama and President Roslyn were able to bring military vs. government struggles to the front.  All The Walking Dead had was Rick vs. Shane, and Shane was clearly losing it.

Where's the discussion of society?  Of religion?  Of politics?  Why isn't anyone trying to rebuild their life?  Instead they stay holed up on a farm rather than seeing if the zombie mania was going on in another state.  What if it's just Georgia?  Then go to Florida.  I understand the highway was blocked, but there has to be back roads around this.

4.  No one has fun on the show.  What people often forget is that Lost weaved this in almost flawlessly.  Although the main theme of the show was still destiny vs. free will and faith vs. reason, Hurley acted as the foil to both these things, carrying some sort of lightness that made the audience like him as well as the castaways.

There's nothing like that on The Walking Dead.  No one is funny, no one makes jokes, no one tries to lighten the mood.  Consequently, no one is really that likeable.  Go out and have a drink.  Have an interesting conversation.  Go play Augusta National.  Do something.

5.  And even with all this said, there is a lot of potential here in the one thing the show doesn't want to seem to deal with, at least in the first two seasons: mythology.  How did the zombies come about?  Where is the helicopter?  How did someone get a helicopter?  Where is it safe?  Where did Altair come from and what's his story?

There's a lot to be explored if the show would take some time to focus on this.  In a shorter season with more focus.  Maybe you can blame the change in showrunners, maybe it's not the writers' plan to do any of this.  But they're not doing the character thing very well, or the philosophy thing, so why not broaden the horizon?

Just don't let anyone shoot someone else in an outrigger.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The show within the show

TV writers have long been a fan of using other mediums in the middle of their own shows to make a point, either a thematic point or one that helps to accent the character in play.  The Sopranos was very fond of displaying Tony watching the History channel, using something about Nazi German, paralleling Hitler's regime with the terror that Tony brought upon both of his families.

Lost brought this to a whole new level, almost criminally so.  Records, novels, philosophical names, whatever Lindelof and Cuse deemed fit.  After the season 3 finale, "Through the Looking Glass" in which the Looking Glass turned out to be a Dharma station and not quite the Lewis Carroll white rabbit (which was also another episode, season 1's first Jack-centric episode), the drop ins seemed to be more for the joy of the writers and discovery of internet bloggers everywhere than plot-centric.

Last week's episode of Breaking Bad, "Hazard Pay" featured two clips.  The first one was right after Jesse and Walt had just cooked a batch of meth in a house being fumigated.  They were chilling out, relaxing and acting all cool to their favorite episode of The Three Stooges.  The boys were deep in some plot or scheme that ended up being shot at by a gorilla wielding a tommy gun.  Sometimes I wish there were still shows like The Three Stooges on.  It really was a classic and simple piece of Americana, and Sam Malone's realization that he had other interests in the world than just girls.

The idea was that Jesse and Walt (and possibly Mike, although I would not be caught dead calling him a stooge to his face) are mere buffoons is a new development in the world of Breaking Bad.  Immoral, wrong, criminal: absolutely.  But Vince Gilligan has gone to great lengths to prove that Walter White is not an idiot.  He was highly recruited out of college, and he had a promising career, before it was all derailed and he became a high school chemistry teacher (and note that this is an interesting subplot of the series: Why did Walter end up at a high school?  Something happened, something changed for him and his dreams, even referring to his current home as a starter home when he and Skyler first got married).

But a stooge?  Since the death of Gus, Walter has been thrust into a world that he does not understand, but wants to be a part of.  He was the meddling cook before, possibly at peace not seeing the actual effects of his chemistry.  Yet at the same time, he was a little too willing to advance his own career and agenda, and even more willing to protect himself and Jesse.  He now envisions himself something of a badass, an untouchable and an indestructible Robin Hood.  But it's still a world he doesn't understand.  He's beginning a plumbing business with his 2 friends, all the while flooding the basement and hitting each other in the head with pipes.

In a sense, Walter White is lost.  The brilliance of The Three Stooges is that Larry, Curly and Moe never knew they were stooges.  They were three men looking for work (lots of different works) who always find themselves rubbing elbows with people out of their league.  Walter strings along Jesse, putting him in the same world, yet Jesse's motivations are a little more cloudy than Walt's.  His need for a father figure pushes him towards Walter, who doles out parental advice to his new son, someone who doesn't suffer from cerebral palsy.

If the world and the writers see Walter as a stooge, Walter himself sees himself as Tony Montana (a comparison that Vince Gilligan has made often).  So what does Walter do?  Shows his children Scarface of course in the second of the two references, much to the chagrin of Skyler, who is seeing Walter more and more for the gangster he is becoming.

It's almost as if there are two worlds that Walter lives in: the one where he is a stooge, where Mike and drug world sees him as a dope.  Then the other world, where Skyler sees him as a drug lord to be feared, not at all the loving man she married.  She is unfamiliar with the idea of a kingpin, but she's even more unfamiliar with the idea of her husband as that kingpin.

Walter's self-vision of himself as Tony Montana is almost laughable to us the viewer, because we've seen the stupid things he does.  The same way that the average viewer can't understand why Walter doesn't just count his blessings, take his new life given to him, and return to his family.  His family that he is doing all this for.  And his family that he says is a very good reason for doing anything.

All this is Walter justifying his actions and masking his desire to be king.