Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tube Notes: As usual, a quick rundown of some idiot box viewings that caught my eye.

The Wire -- Last month I feared that David Simon had let The Wire turn into a personal platform for forwarding his (somewhat sophomoric) socio-political philosophy. I'm glad to say it looks like I was wrong about that, or perhaps it was mostly isolated to the first couple of episodes. It's pretty clear now that this season is about lies; specifically about one big lie that spirals out to ensnare just about everyone in the city of Baltimore. Like they said in episode one, "The bigger the lie, the more they believe." Maybe. Still, I don't detect the heightened level of humanity in this season that I have in the previous ones. It's mostly an extended series of plot mechanisms so far.

Another interesting theme is how prime drug dealers get offed once they start deluding themselves that there is something logical or civilized about what they are doing. Chaos and evil rise up to destroy them. I'd go into this in more detail but I don't want to be a spoiler. More to come.

Breaking Bad -- This is AMC's new original series, following up last year's excellent Mad Men. Like Mad Men, it's clearly got boundless potential, but at episode two it has yet to hit its stride. Alternately harrowing and comic, it's the story of a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has inoperable lung cancer and so gets involved cooking up crystal meth with a druggie former student. The situation is complicated by his stuck-up, pregnant wife and a DEA agent brother-in-law. Murder and mayhem ensue.

Bryan Cranston (the father from Malcolm in the Middle) plays the lead exceptionally well: a straight-laced, meek, inhibited guy, faced with a suddenly limited lifespan, goes off the deep end. It seems to be playing out in a 24 sort of format where we get a day or so with every episode. Of course, the storyline of comically inept drug amateurs can only go so far. If the characters flesh out and we witness some big picture enlightening, this could turn out to be a winner. I'll let you know.

No Reservations -- I hate Anthony Bourdain. He travels around the world, eats incredible food, then writes and hosts his TV show about it. Bastard. I should be doing that. Bourdain brings something to travel and food shows that is sorely lacking. Specifically: wit. With so many whitebread cooking shows and dry-as-sand travel shows hovering around, No reservations just jumps out as something special. A smarty-pants guy who's not out to further cultural empathy or sell recipes, just have some fun experiences and not take himself too seriously. That's all you need to be a cut above in the current market. For me, No Reservations is a mixed blessing. It's a cool and interesting show to watch for a while, but then I get all angry that it's not me. I repeat: Bastard.