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TV QuickShots #1

Note: As an avid watcher of all sorts of televised entertainment, I will provide brisk regular summations of key thoughts on TV shows on Random Dangling Mystery under the TV QuickShots heading.

TV QuickShots

Luther (BBC; 2010)

Got Your Back

Despite (or perhaps because of) its overwrought psychological histrionics, the first six-episode season of Luther succeeds at systematically wratcheting up its stakes, its tension, its consequences as it wears on. One of the BBC’s recent high-profile crime dramas (alongside the much more fun and breezy Sherlock), Luther is at times ludicrous and at times riveting and only briefly bothers with the space between. This is the TV drama as relentless brinkmanship, and who better to head such an enterprise than Idris Elba (best known as Stringer Bell on The Wire), who stalks through most scenes with a combination of cool intelligence and wounded-animal menace? The smarter margins of television are full of roguish anti-heroes (Stringer Bell was one of them), and many of them are damaged-but-brilliant cops. But John Luther’s emotional and professional peaks and valleys are imparted with a magnetic mixture of unpredictable violence and cold modern grandeur that is singular on the current dial (to say nothing of the audacious daring of repurposing “Breathe Me”, Sia’s Six Feet Under‘s series finale anthem, as a very different musical statement on death). By the time you reach the finale’s outrageous mood-swing conclusion, you’re left wondering what other directions this arc could possibly bend in during a second season. Notable supporting appearances: Ruth Wilson (who once played Jane Eyre) as a calculated red-headed sociopath who becomes Luther’s unlikely ally, and a hangdog Steven Mackintosh as Luther’s fellow copper, who becomes something else entirely.

The Killing (AMC; 2011)

Yes, I would LOVE for you to tell me about how I can save on long distance!

Adapted from an acclaimed Danish show of the same English name, The Killing continues AMC’s putative original-series winning streak (although zombie-fest The Walking Dead was vastly overpraised, in my view). A multiple-perspectives take on the mysterious and brutal rape, abduction, and murder of a teenage girl, the American version is set in Seattle (played by its neighbour in coastal gloom, Vancouver), its diluted overcast skies and dim interiors evoking a very Scandinavian emotional bleakness that is far from common on shiny American TV. Although we’ve only seen three episodes thus far, the quality of the plotting and the performances (watch for sci-fi vet Michelle Forbes as a particularly aggrieved mother) is already evident, even if the emotions and the narrative twists and turns seem subordinate to the overwhelming mood of gloom and decay. Expect more words to be bandied about on its subject as the story progresses.

An Idiot Abroad (Sky1/Science Channel; 2010)

How much longer before I can, say, hang a cinderblock from my bollocks?

Karl Pilkington is not so much an idiot as he is a profoundly incurious Westerner sheltered by the amenities and assumptions of economically-advanced capitalist society. A natural deadpanner (deadpaneer?) whose comic timing even seems to surprise himself at times, Pilkington was a producer on the cult XFM radio show Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant hosted before being pulled into the fray as an on-air foil for the duo. He is emphatically not the kind of gregarious, worldly television presenter so common in travel programming, but then Gervais and Merchant want the mild, bald Pilkington to lampoon the world-travel-as-liberal-betterment narrative implied by the Rick Steves of the world (he contrasts himself to traveloguer Michael Palin several times, and even stays in the same hotel – but not the same room – as Palin did in India). He accomplishes this by, apparently, being himself (or by being a highly controlled comic persona that just feels like it’s only himself). As much fun as the mostly-unseen Gervais and Merchant have in tweaking Pilkington’s trips from the homefront for his maximum discomfort and annoyance (they especially enjoy feeding him bizarre food and making him sleep in decidedly sub-luxurious places), the real appeal of An Idiot Abroad is not as their usual comedy of awkward squirming, but as a travel-show satire. The centuries-old orientalism of the English, that smug assumption that they become greater and fuller people by briefly, touristically appropriating the culture of other civilizations, rolls off of Pilkington’s back like a duck. With casual purposefulness, he learns nothing, expands in no directions, and fails to broaden his mind. And that, in his view, is just all right.

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Categories: Reviews, Television
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  1. March 22, 2014 at 5:13 pm
  2. April 18, 2014 at 12:04 pm
  3. January 31, 2015 at 9:41 am

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