Tuesday, February 08, 2011

[TV] Tube Notes

Tube Notes: Justified is awfully fun. It is entertaining as hell, to be expected not just because it is based on Elmore Leonard stories, but because they have managed to catch to slick, tongue-in-cheekiness that Leonard brings to his books. The new season start on Feb 9th and I have been catching up the first.

Each episode contains a reed thin plotted mystery just like every detective show since time immemorial. They aren't bad. The casting is sharp and the understated white-trash southern vibe (Eastern Kentucky) and poetic redneck wit is a nice contrast to the usual slick, citified settings. But these are throwaway stories. The season long arc is much better. We follow a group of characters from a small cracker town, most are crooked, most are stupid, one is a U.S. Marshall, and all damaged, with lifelong conflicts and connections to fight over. It's in this realm that Justified is a cut above.

If I had to prognosticate I might put this show in a category with House. It's attached to its genre by thoughtless glad-handing and barely noticeable case-of-the-week back stories. The personalities and character arcs are the meat of the show. That's cool. Justified has the benefit of having more powerful characters, not just the single lead that everything depends on.

There is serious acting horsepower here, even in the secondary characters and guests, but Walton Goggins is dead on scary perfect as Boyd Crowder. Someone should hand him an Emmy. I'm as much looking forward to this next season as I am not enjoying the current season of the now fully neutered House.

The other find is Showtime's new comedy Episodes. The creators of a hit British sitcom, a married couple with Nick and Nora Charles like wit, hop the pond and get involved with adapting their sitcom for the U.S. Their sitcom centered around a sophisticated, erudite headmaster at a hoity-toity boarding school, and featured a storied old stage actor as the lead. To their horror, in the hands of the U.S. executives, it ends up turning into a sitcom about a hockey coach called Pucks! and stars Matt LeBlanc (playing himself). Much of the humor stems from the culture clash and satirization of the superficial Hollywood types, but there is some good chemistry going as Matt LeBlanc becomes a bad influence on the husband and a maddening influence on the wife who is occasionally attracted to him, but mostly repulsed. Let me just say I had no idea that LeBlanc was could be so dry. He was clearly underutilized in Friends. Check it out.

One last note. Daniel Mendelsohn is not a great admirer of Mad Men, and as an admirer of contrarian points of view I applaud him. Interestingly, he finds many of the same flaws I have written about over the years, but for him it puts Mad men into the negative, for me it just keeps Mad Men out of the pantheon. I still greatly admire the portrait that has been painted of Don Draper, he thinks the shortcomings swamp the insights. Pay special attention to his ending comments about the show's angle on children -- that is a sharp and, for me, especially accurate insight.