Toob Roundup: With January comes the return of some of my favorite shows. Three of them stand out as much for the way they sound as anything else. That is very encouraging. It has been a rarity in the past that dialogue would amount to anything other than utilitarian speech intended to push the plot along. These three shows have as much to offer the ears as the eyes.
Spartacus -- Possibly the most misunderstood show on television, but they have no one to blame but themselves. This show is shot through with soft-core pornography and snuff-film violence -- really, to the point where they should be ashamed of themselves. It is cynical pandering to the basest instincts for ratings. And yet...it's amazing. In between all that nonsense is solid historical drama (loosely based, and so forth) and, more interestingly, some seriously beautiful quasi-poetic dialog -- a kind of invented language, sounding almost like a cross between Elizabethan English and the awkward dialog of old gladiator films, which I think was meant to sound like translated Latin. It nearly has a meter to it and it impresses as quite literate. I'm sure it puts most people off but then we get back to sex and gore before they change the channel.
Essentially, there is no middle ground. It both the lowest and highest concept with nothing in between. A no fiddling about either. The entire series will run 3.5 seasons. The production is assured and confident -- in fact, it is the only show I can think of that ever lost its lead actor and simply replaced him with another without missing a beat. Sort of makes it the AC/DC of TV shows. A unique and compelling achievement all around.
Justified -- Speaking of poetic dialog, I could spend an entire hour listening to some these guys jawbone joustin' in their hillbilly drawls. Terrifically vivid characters. Really captures the spirit of Elmore Leonard, especially this season wherein there is a central underlying mystery that we've gotten little dribs and drabs of in the standalone episodes so far, but will (in all likelihood) gather steam as the season goes on and as all these characters converge on it from some direction or other.
That's not to say there aren't flaws. You can get some Deus Ex Machina manipulations, the exposition isn't always well disguised, and there is the odd glaring plot hole now and then. But generally, it hangs together well, and for the rough parts, well, as they say, you can just ignore the story and enjoy the music.
Archer -- Easily the funniest show on TV. By a mile. The slam bang timing of it all is the secret and it's doubtful you can give the actors credit because a) it's animated and b) the actors record their conversations separately, according to recent interviews with creator Adam Reed, and then the editors painstakingly stitch together the dialogue for perfect pacing. However the process goes, it works beautifully. Linked dialogue, throwaway background gags, arcane and archaic pop culture references -- it all adds up to the sort of aural onslaught that I spoke of last month when describing Firesign Theatre's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers. Just masterful.
It's good to see a trend for developing a show to have a good audio as well as visual style. The capability to affect the ears as well as the eyes been an advantage of motion pictures since the talkies came along, but mostly all that has amounted to is setting tone with music. It's good to see folks stretching the boundaries a bit and forcing us to appreciate our ears a little more.
Related: A critical evaluation of Breaking Bad, which is all wrong. And I say that based on the observation that it disagrees with me. The take is a essentially a socio-political one, a celebration of the series seemingly adopting a proper moral conclusion. I don't really have a take on the validity of that, I just believe that blatantly taking the correct moral stand has diminished the drama. The question, the central conflict, of whether it is better to be a "good" doormat or an "evil" protagonist, along with all the shading in between, is closed as the series rushes to conclusion.
Also related: Like Dustin, I'm still pissed off about Luck.