True Detective, HBO's latest contribution to the new 'golden age' of television is a stunning show. I've had a number of fairly intense discussions about the show with a few people lately. It's a detective show of the weird-serial-killer-kind, except that it isn't. In fact, I would say that the show just uses the device as backdrop to what it's really about which might just be philosophical views on the human condition. The tagline of the early promos for the show declared, 'darkness becomes you' and it would be easy to make the leap and connect that to the crime and murder ideas in the show, but I think it is more about all of us, and particularly harnesses the show around Rustin Cohle's character played by Matthew McConaughey. Two detectives, Cohle, and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) are thrown together in the search for a killer. But forget any idea of a buddy-series, these two are like night and day. We are three episodes in and we have no idea why, but something happens and the show splits it's time between the events around the murder in 1995 and some years later when a similar murder occurs and they are interviewed by another detective team, but neither man is still in law enforcement and something has not only wedged between them, but also had a dramatic effect, at least on Cohle.
The show has garnered great reviews and a cult-like following already, it's disturbing and dark, but not because of what you might think. It's not the but not because of the violence nudity and sex, but because it has a really dark philosophical core, expressed by Cohle, suggesting that humanity is an error of evolution and ultimately meaningless, and that we should stop reproducing. Seriously, that's the core drive in the show. the tension between the two detectives revolves ultimately around cohle's dark nihilistic view of humanity--he offers long and ponderous reflections on the direness of the human condition--as Nick Cave might say, "People ain't no good." He's a self-described pessimist, but this ain't no everyday pessimism,
"I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution. We became too self aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."
Hart comes off as more 'normal' but he has secrets and his life is at times as threadbare as Cohle's he just doesn'ty have such a bold philosophical under-girding for his take on life.
So far we have discovered that the murder victim, Dora Lange, had said she had met a “king,” and that she kept a diary in which she mentioned “the Yellow King” and “Carcosa.” These come from a collection of 19th century stories by Robert Chambers called, "The King in Yellow," in which several of the stories are connected by a play about the king, and those who read the story are driven mad by it. There are five episodes left for all this to unfold and who knows where it will ultimately lead, but for now, HBO has once again offered up some compelling drama, this time where the crime at the heart of the story seems to be existence, well at least for now it is. That is some intense stuff for a detective show and it demonstrates why television is so good right now, the format allows for deeper and more sustained reflections upon an idea.
Oh, and T-Bone Burnett is curating the music= added bonus.
You can also dig deeper at darknessbecomesyou.com after each new episode.
Well, we're done. Breaking Bad is over. Five seasons of fiction that exceeded the sum total of its parts. The cultural excitement and hand-wringing over its ending was something to behold. I am a fan, so no complaints from me, and I think they handled the end really well--kudos to all involved say I. There was added pressure given the apparent dismay over The Sopranos ending and the more recent Dexter season finale which seemed to draw a collective groan of disappointment. I don't get that crazed, but I did appreciate the careful way that the story was wrapped up. Like many people I think it was virtually impossible to exceed the depth and emotion of the Ozymandias two weeks before, but they managed to close out the show with aplomb. There was even just the right amount of final self-awareness from Walt, and he even got death on his own terms, which may or may not please all viewers. But the show managed to take a character from good to bad to worse to eveil and still keep us interested in spite of all that. Don't want to say much more given that there are still people getting around to watching the ending, but that was television time well spent.
On September 30th, 1929, John Logie Baird, inventor of the televisor, initiated the first ever live tv broadcast in London. A fitting beginning point for the Fall term's class on theology and media culture.
The class is going to focus on two principle media lenses--the first half will consider television, the second focusing on the digital shift and concentrating on social media. There is communication, media and cultural theory, plus theological methodologies, thinking about the way various media re-direct content, transform how and what we communicate. It's ultimately about joining dots between theology, culture and media exploring the interplays between various artifacts.
I have confessed many times to my love of television, and of my predilection for the anti-heroes that litter the channels these days, from Tony Soprano to Walter White, from Justified to Hell on Wheels, from True Blood to Dexter, I like the way TV develops ugly characters and somehow gives enough pathos to make you like them enough to come back again and again to watch their descent into whatever madness is their particular bent.
I like the way many of these shows grapple with the complexity of ethics and morality in this shape-shifting world of ours. For instance, I think that one of the most fascinating shows on TV is Californication, David Duchovny's Hank is a serial-sex addict with a heart of gold, who wants nothing more than true love and family and yet fucks it up every chance he gets. Rather than a celebration of licentiousness, the show lingers over heartbreak as Hank recognizes over and over that his pathologies are the death drive that hamper the fulfilment he so desperately seeks. No point in watching if you can't handle serious nakedness, lots of sex, foul language and twisted humour, but every reason to tune-in if you want to encounter brutal honesty and a no-holds barred examination of the plight of a man.
Tonight sees the return of another anti-hero, Atlantic City's, Nuchy Thompson, in Boardwalk Empire. Apparently we are going up to Harlem and encountering the Jazz-Age in full swing. The 1920s were an amazing time in our cultural story-those giddy years after the Great war and before the Wall Street Crash, Great Depression and every other challenge to sanity that the 20th century seemed to bring.
Once I start with something, I generally travel the whole journey, I know there are mixed feelings about BE, but I like it a lot. I could watch it for the fashion alone, I have 'suit-envy' pretty anytime there is a man on screen, but more than that, I once again, like the complx tales of lies, corruption and the lengths people go to undermine what they really want. This inversion, or corruption, or thwarting of desire seems to be a big theme in televison as we dig into the 21st century. I would hazard a guess that this is because it is a huge theme in the broader culture. As we leave the 20th century behind (and I think it takes a while for one century to remove itself from another-a calendar date is arbitrary and not the truest indicator of time change), it seems that much of life-why we live our lives, and what we live them for, is being interoogated once more as we see more and more people looking for ways to enrich and enhance their lives and struggling to come to terms with the lies we've bought into, the lies we've been sold, and come to terms with what lurks within us all as we try to make sense of our being. Or maybe I just like gangsters.
(p.s. Armchair Nation seems like a good title for a book, i'm sure someone has already used it, but I might try and use it for a series of books on culture that I am refining and trying to find a publisher for)
There are those who proclaim that we are in the midst of a new 'golden age' of television. It certainly seems to me that a lot of television shows are giving cinema a run for their money in terms of almost everything--characters, storyline, visuals, effects, production value. I also think that technology, particularly things like Netflix and Hulu, as well as DVR technology and Internet availability have all lent themselves to a bit of a tv revival. One of the biggest factors, as far as I am concerned, is that I think the current appeal of television is related to its exploration of the anti-hero, in this it runs in the opposite direction to cinema which seems to trade almost exclusively in the heroic, and I think the anti-hero move is more reflective of our time and perhaps more desirous.
I have always been a big watcher of television, golden age or otherwise, but I must confess to a love-affair with the box right now. Three shows that I'm into all feature the letter 'b' in their titles. Breaking bad-The Bridge and Borgen. Two of the shows are Scandinavian in origin (Netflix will introduce you to a host of tv and film from Denmark/Norway/Sweden--but try Wallender and Headhunters).
Borgen (Government), is a Danish drama about the challenges of a coalition government run by a female Prime Minister. each episode begins with a quote-usually about power, or its folly, and the show plays out the details. There is nothing flash, it's very low-key, character-driven, but the writing and acting is really good, anticipating the questions we all might ask of the situations. The characters are not slick, they look 'normal' and that helps make the show feel real.
The sub-text is relationships; between government and the news media-tv and news print-scandals, compromise, backroom deals; between the Prime minister and her family and her co-leaders; between spin doctors and the press. What I really enjoy is the openness and honesty. The Prime Minister struggles with balancing job and family, winds up getting a divorce, and later has casual sex with a co-worker---and it is handled very openly and honestly- not in a scandalous or 'this-doesn't-matter' way, but in a mature and rational understanding of the complexities of modern life and living, about the way that life unfolds in surprising ways, and the humanity required to handle it all. That is not to say that it labours on the sexual, that is hardly a key issue, the show really deals with relationships of power, Foucault would have a field day I think.
I think that the demand of watching a show with sub-titles, helps to keep one focused and perhaps paying more attention than usual--it is hard to multi-task when you are reliant upon the subtitles for understanding what is going on.
The Bridge, is a re-make of another Danish/Swedish production about a body found on a bridge between the two countries. It has been transplanted to El Paso/Juarez, but the story is essentially the same; cops from each side of the border come together to work on a murder mystery. It could easily fall prey to stereotypes and at times runs that risk very closely, but it manages to remain on the right side of edgy for the most part. It is helped in this by two great lead characters--Diane Kruger playing a savant-like Texan cop, with a history of pain and tragedy, resulting in a deep emotional disconnect that makes her socially awkward, and Demian Bechir, who plays a Mexican cop trying hard to keep on the straight and narrow, avoiding bribes. It is a little good cop/bad cop, buddy show, but the story is complex and well told and the supporting characters are pretty rich. it's on FX, so it is grittier than network cop shows, and that helps.
I am constantly surprised at the boundary crossing that is occurring in tv these days around the portrayal of sex and violence as well as language-a whole new world of swearing seems to be dawning upon us. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing, I realize people have different levels of acceptance and tolerance with regard to these things--of the three, personally I find the violence the most difficult to deal with, that may have something to do with growing up in England, where we are much more relaxed about nudity and swearing.
The third show is Breaking Bad. We are coming to the end of the Walter White chronicles and while there is sadness that the show is coming to an end there is also much excitement for the conclusion. Like Lost and The Sopranos, there is a growing concern over how the 'end' will be handled, which tells you how invested in both the story and the characters many are. Walter White might just be the ultimate anti-hero--passive High School Chemistry Teacher to murderous Drug Baron in a character descent that is every bit as dark as Michael Corleone's in The Godfather series. The dark threads in the story aren't unravelling and the show continues to throw curveballs into the story. That we have grown to love a man who has turned into a manipulative monster is an amazing feat, but that is why I think the audience is growing and binge-watching to catch up seems to be a summer priority for lots of people.
So there you go, three shows worth spending some time watching, and then doing an inventory on your own life.