Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Spring Round-Up Part III: Garfunkel and Oates, Comedians, 12 Monkeys, Bates Motel

Twelve Monkeys (SyFy)-Based on the Terry Gilliam film of the same name, this loopy time travel series got my attention out of the gate. It had a premise that kept me eagerly awaiting the next plot turn despite the fact that it's based on a story I'm already familiar with.

Aaron Stratford (Pyro from the X-Men) plays Bruce Willis' role of Cole and gets the dazed and confused stature of the action hero down (which isn't particularly far off from the war-weary and jaded thing he's going for). The chemistry between him and Dr. Railly (Amanda Schull) and Stratford has a certain electricity to it despite the fact that they aren't romantically intertwined (as of Episode 10, at least). They do a lot with wayward glances which makes a scene like Cole's attempts to dance at a cocktail party a lot less cringeworthy than originally written.

Credit: Cnet.com
Slowing down this romance is Railly's off-and-on-again boyfriend/fiancĂ©e who goes from disbeliever to uneasy ally. Part of this might have to do with the sort of trippy quasi-love triangle they're in wherein one side might have some extra special motivation to ensure that the other side gets erased from time although this isn't acknowledged (which is kind of weird).  Emily Hampshire (the MVP of Schitt's Creek, pictured right) plays the Brad Pitt character with a wild manic energy that's worthy of more of my adoration.

Unfortunately, the series gets bogged down in the middle episodes with plot lines set in the future outside of Cole that don't resonate. Dr. "Not Indiana" Jones gets into a power struggle with a faction that wants to cure the virus rather than do the whole time travel assassination thing. This virus cure strategy aligns more with the plot of the original movie but it's nowhere near as exciting as assassination via time travel, so what's the point? Even more questionable is the choice to add a subplot about Ramse's ex-lover and newly discovered child. This is way too much screen time to give to a character who exists primarily as a side character and confidante to Cole. This would be like if "It's a Wonderful Life" interrupted the main plot to bother us with story lines about Clarence and his domestic squabbles in Heaven.

The primary purpose of setting scenes in the future in the film was to provide the backstory and showcase Terry Gilliam's aesthetic which this show can't compete with. The scenes set in the present from Dr. Railly's point of view where she has highly imperfect information over what/where/when will happen next is when the series is at its best so let's hope we see more of the show set there. The show is still very enjoyable despite its complex plot and unpleasant deviations and I'm only at Episode 10, so let's hope things right themselves by the end of the season.

Garfunkel and Oates (IFC)-The brainchild of two actors that met each other performing at the UCB theater, Garfunkel and Oates originated from a song and dance act of two girls singing plain and dirty truths set to sweet harmonies and ukuleles. The musical numbers are undeniably catchy but there's nothing beyond that that isn't already being done by better acts that came along first. The first comparison that will come to mind is "Flight of the Concords" which is pretty unflattering considering that G & O does such a poor job of shoehorning their songs into plots.

Other than that, we have unflattering comparisons to "Broad City" in that the leads are two dense ladies with questionable abilities to navigate adulthood in a codependent relationship with each other. If not for "Broad City," there's also the "Live Prude Girls" web series (starring the AT&T girl) and Grace Helbig doing the dense girl shtick solo.

I'm not suggesting that these two actresses are falling short of the admirable goal of finding their voice and translating it into sitcom form. It's just that they have the awful luck of having a voice that's eerily similar to a number is shows already out there and what little there is that differentiates Garfunkel and Oates from Broad City or Live Prude Girls is a very small slice of demographic pie.

[Update: I watched a couple more episodes. The one with Ari Graynor is pretty solidly written]

The Comedians (FX)-Even if we admire the execution of shows like Louie, Episodes, Comeback,  Curb Your Enthusiasm, Life is Short  or The Michael J Fox Show we need to stop celebrating the same tired concept of a comedian or actor playing a thinly veiled version of his or herself. It comes off as vain and is becoming ad overused a genre as vampires are for teens.  At least Michael Judge or Jon Favreau had the creative decency to channel their creative frustrations into metaphors like tech start ups or cooking. To make matters worse: Billy Crystal already mined this territory in Mr. Saturday Night. For someone who's primarily known as a last minute resort for Oscar hosting with the same shtick he's been doing since the 90s, you would think he would use an opportunity like this to do something more inventive. On the plus side,  underrated character actress Stephanie Weir is now employed for a while. 

[Update: I only watched the first episode]

Bates Motel (A and E)-I was incredibly pleased with this show over the first two seasons. Who would've thought that Hitchcock's most action-oriented film could be adapted into one of the best mood pieces on TV. This is like Dawson's Creek or another small town teenage drama except with a lot more rape,  arson,  manslaughter, corruption,  schizophrenia, and outright murder. But it's still a mood piece with a strong sense of place,  deep characters and great performances.

The problem if that the show might have run out of mileage by now. The reveal that Norman has a habit of losing his marbles has already happened, we already know Mama Bates is creepy, the town's dirty,  and we've already seen Norman fall in love and murder someone twice (On the subject of his murdering: Shouldn't he be put in a mental institution by now?) What's there left for the show to do?  

From what I've seen of this season,  they're now pairing him off with a new love interest in Emma and more shady people are rolling into town. Neither of these things are new. I'm not suggesting the show needs to shift it's identity but rather reconsider whether the show will have diminishing returns from here on out. I'm not saying "Let's cancel the show!" but there are some obstacles in place that need to be worked out if the show is going to tread in the same direction.

For other editions of my Spring 2015 review:
Part I: Glee, Togetherness, Last Man on Earth, Archer
Part II: Schitt's Creek, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Librarians 
Still to come: Daredevil, Better Call Saul, Fresh off the Boat, Empire, and possibly Modern Family, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Empire, and Silicon Valley

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