Monday, July 6, 2015
I didn't write anything about last week's True Detective because it was basically a non-entity to me. It didn't lead to the "lolwut" level of response like the opener, but it also didn't do anything to recommend the show. Yes, yes: "Colin Farrell took two blasts from a shotgun at close range!" Big deal. No one could believe for a second that they would build Ray into the most faceted character in the show and then kill him in episode 2. For those of you about to drag out the now-hoary Eddard Stark example, please recall that he was around for 9 episodes before he got the Public Safety haircut, to say nothing of the plot kind of shepherding everyone in that direction, anyway. Other than Dr. Pitior, easily the most fascinating character of the show and played by none other than Rick Springfield (Jessie's Girl!), episode 2 was a lot more of the same: incredibly morose cops surrounded by incredibly obvious corruption and a crimelord who's determined to be the toughest not-tough-guy anyone has ever seen.
Episode 3, despite being lauded by some critics who had gotten previews as the moment when the series begins to take flight, didn't add a whole lot to our continued tour of CSI: Eyes Wide Shut. Ray did survive being gunned down by the raven-masked guy (Dark wings, dark wo- oh, wait. Just riot shells. Since Pizzolatto is dipping into Kubrick, I thought he might borrow from Tarantino and make it rock salt.) and remains the one actor with a lot of meat to work with in terms of character, but who is still sandbagged by dialogue that seems to have come from the writers' room dartboard. He actually sat across from a guy he's known forever and used the word "apoplectic" like he was quoting Atticus Finch? And then explained drinking a glass of water (without ice? In a bar? I know there's a drought, but...) because "I want to stay angry." Sure, it could be false bravado and, given Ray's character, probably is. But it also sounds clumsy and forced. There's a fine line between selling that as a character and making your audience think that the writer was out of ideas when it came to that line and I'm not quite sure that Pizzolatto is staying on the right side of it. Farrell continues to work with what he's given but a couple more haunted looks and I think he might have reached the limit of what he can do here.
Taylor Kitsch, OTOH, did take a much larger step toward becoming a (ahem) person of interest when we discover that the reason for the performance-enhancing drugs and the angst over wartime is not about the combat, but the lover he can't quite forget and the associated urges. That's real conflict and created real drama and genuine character interaction when he found the guys who could lead him to the club, not to mention the series-defining line to this point: "They won't even talk to you... with that angsty, cop thing you're rolling." Yes, you. All of you. Even the one who's not a cop. Suddenly we have someone who's struggling not with the demons of the past that none of us can really see, but beasts of the present (one might even say "animal lust", if one were so inclined) that are Mr. Right here and right now. Woodrugh's insistence on not looking at the people who can already see right through him was a great bit of acting by Kitsch.
And then there's Vince. Poor Vince/Frank. The guy just can't catch a break. Problem is, he can't act one, either. While I was intrigued by the casting of comedic actor Vaughn to play a role in a series that was doubtlessly going to be way, way out of his typical range, at this point I think we have to declare this a failed experiment. Most people (or at least those who hadn't seen Dallas Buyers Club) assumed that Matthew McConaughey couldn't do grim and gritty, either, but he sold it last season from the first moment in the interrogation room. Even while he was rambling, the restraint, the tension, the coiled power, was there. Frank Semyon is a different character, but I think he calls for that same kind of self-assuredness and Vaughn just can't do that. Every time he's on screen, he's bloviating and leaving everyone with the impression that he's in control of nothing, but especially not himself. This is a guy who deals with the Russians? I ain't buyin' it. It'd be approaching believable if he played it with some comic timing, as in most of his other roles. Those are the actor's roots and, therefore, would be easier to accept as the character's roots, too. It's where he's comfortable. Instead, he just looks as out of his element in performing the role as Frank does in trying not to be tough.
In complete contrast, what we have in Antigone is a capable actor in Rachel McAdams with a role that's bordering on utterly worthless. She's a sounding board for the crazy guys. That's it. It's the same problem that existed in season 1, where every woman in the show existed solely to be the scenery for Marty and Rust. Since that series was essentially about their contrasting and hypocritical personalities, you can make an allowance for the fact that most of the other characters didn't exactly have depth. But Ani is no different. Her "moment" in episode 2 was a few seconds where we discover that she actually likes porn. Newsflash: Everyone likes porn. (One day, I will actually get into a Moth Radio Hour session and regale you all with a story about that very topic.) Porn is one leg of the stool that makes up the Interwebs, along with Amazon and Youtube comment threads. This is not a huge revelation nor does it make her tortured or weird or perverted in any way. It's normal. If it's meant to reinforce the fact that she keeps everyone at a distance, we already know that, since the rest of her character serves as nothing but to be the normal, straight-laced "good" cop who gets to be the contrast to the guys with all kinds of issues. You know, the ones that are actually interesting. The fact that McAdams can play the stock casting call "tough cop" that the role apparently is and still have a certain degree of chemistry with her partners ("Is that a fucking e-cigarette?") is a credit to her, not the role. Episode 3 did nothing for her but give her a bunch of scenes where she shows she's the "hard worker" and "too obsessed with her job to have a 'relationship'" (Ewwww!) and she's built this tough, outer shell to hide the fact that she likes watching people screw? Um... so do I. So does everyone. This is not a crisis.
If I sound like I'm ripping the show up one side and down the other... well, it's because I am. Like many, I had high hopes for it after the phenomenal first season and the second season has turned into something that I would have dropped from my viewing time if not for the foundation laid in the swamps of Louisiana. The setting is less interesting, the characters are less compelling, the writing is exposition on meth, and all apologies to T. Bone, but the theme song kinda sucks, too. At this point last season, I was enthralled. Here we are one episode from the halfway point of season 2 and I'm really kinda bored. I don't care about Caspere getting his balls blown off and the big plot to build a trolley. There are a couple points of intrigue (Rick Springfield! Who knew he could even act?) but they're not really worth the hour a week to dig for them. One does have to acknowledged the awesomeness that is Fred Ward (Remo!) playing Ray's dad, but that's just one more candle in the darkness. We'll give it one more week and then HBO might be getting cut off until March.