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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (6/18/13) 12:35am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Before Midnight
TV:  Justified [1x04-1x07], Arrested Development [4x04-4x11]
Books:  <none>

Before Midnight
This is the Richard Linklater film that follows Jesse and Celine, the protagonists of Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), for another long, discursive day.

I'm only a bit younger than these two.  I suspect most people my age watch this, and they see a lot of themselves in it.  As for me, I feel like I'm watching a boat that gets further and further away with each visit.

Honestly, I doubt I had too much in common with Jesse and Celine in the first film.  I wasn't all that good at being young.  I didn't have those ambitious, ardent, wide-eyed qualities I associate with Jesse and Celine in Before Sunrise.[1]  And yet a lot of things did match up: I was at the same point in life, with a lot of the same questions.  I spent at least a little time wandering around European cities.  The future felt very vague.

And then they married, and had kids, and divorced.  And meanwhile, I didn't.  So the subsequent films have felt to me a little like peeking in on the rest of the world and seeing what *they've* been up to.

I realize I'm talking mostly about myself.  I think some part of my brain doesn't want to assess the movie as a movie.  It feels less like a film, and more like checking in on two real people after a decade of not seeing them.  And so I find myself thinking not about the art behind the film (though I was astounded by the early car-ride shot, a oner that seemed to last half an hour), but about life.

Ah.  So *that's* what it's like when a marriage has a permanent argument built into it, and the argument never resolves because it comes from the bedrock of the personalities involved.  Interesting.  I wonder how I would've dealt with that.

So: thoughts like that.

Again, I'm saying little about the film.  I guess all I can say is that it's fascinating and real.  Or let's say "convincing".  I can't vouch for its realism, can I?

Justified [1x04-1x07]
This is the series about a disgraced U. S. Marshal who gets sent home to a small, crime-ridden town in Kentucky.  It's based on a series of short stories by Elmore Leonard.  I discussed the first few episodes here.

I'm always surprised at what talented people can do with the "crime procedural" format.  I always associate crime-of-the-week shows with the bland, leave-it-on-while-folding-laundry, "acronym shows" that air on CBS.  Every episode is constructed the same; none of them are really *about* anything; and the only way they reach for originality is by picking OMGSENSATIONAL crimes that are bizarre, disgusting, and/or RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.[2]

But other times, it feels like the crime-procedural format is just a canvas for people to paint on -- and that harping on something for being "just a procedural" is like faulting a painter for painting on a *rectangular* piece of fabric.  Less metaphorically, the procedural is an easy way to make sure that each episode has our hero encounter a story that has a beginning, middle, and end.  And paradoxically, this rigid format is probably *freeing* for the showrunners -- since they don't have to wrack their brains over "how do I make this episode have a plot?", they can explore other aspects of the show.

And that's how you get something like, say Pushing Daisies, which is absolutely a crime procedural.  Bryan Fuller can go on all these dilatory, whimsical tangents through its candy-coated world, and yet he still knows that each episode will hum along with forward momentum as our heroes follow one clue to the next.  That part takes care of itself.

This applies to Justified, too.  It absolutely has a crime-of-the-week, and doesn't veer from that hardly at all.[2]  Even the overarching parts of the show are character-based, not plot-based.  But again, the fact that they're always guaranteed  a story with stakes and a resolution -- that gives them leave to do some exploring.  I'm told that Harlan County gets explored in almost-Springfieldian detail as the show goes on, but now it just feels like they're exploring characters.  Like I said last time, this is a show populated by people who have better things to do than to be characters in a crime procedural, and while the crime-of-the-week plot train rumbles along, the show studies these characters and lets them breathe.

Granted, at the same time, I'm starting to see some tropes of the show come into focus: they like to set up a badass-looking character and a nebbish-looking character, and then, with a dramatic twist, demonstrate that the badass is kind of reasonable and the nebbish is an off-the-charts psychopath.  Criminals on this show always enter a scene *from* somewhere, usually nattering on about something at right angles to the plot (say, the two hit men in "Long in the Tooth" who argue about, appropriately enough, Pulp Fiction).  And this feels like a world where most of the criminals and lawmen have a certain professional regard for one another -- everybody's just doing their jobs; nobody needs to take things personal; everybody might could listen to reason.

I feel like they're getting better and better at the Kentucky accent on this show.  Specifically, they're nailing how Kentuckians play with register.  Take a line like this one, from "Blind Spot": "not to take anything away from your vaunted powers of observation, but you were rollin' around on the floor tryin' not to get killed."  I'm paraphrasing a bit from memory, but you can see how tha first half of that sentence sits in an educated, or high register.  It hits the vaguely SAT-ish word "vaunted", it throws in a few polysyllables, and it uses the business-y circumlocution "not to take anything away from".  Then the second half of the sentence goes into the gutter -- low register -- all dropped g's and simple, crude phrasings.

I don't know.  Maybe I'm just unobservant and people everywhere do this, but it's my recollection that Kentuckians do this all the damn time.  It's like knowing that you have such a bumpkin-sounding accent makes it fun to briefly elevate into a few unexpectedly high-flown words -- perhaps cool-sounding words you don't know the exact meaning of -- now and then.  It's like the big fancy words and phrases are a rich dessert that you get to indulge in every so often.

Frankly, if they keep writing a style of dialog that gibes with my memories of my childhood, I won't really care that the accents sound mostly wonky.

Arrested Development [4x04-4x07]
This is netflix's long-awaited continuation of the long-dead Mitch Hurwitz comedy.

I find it odd that this has received such a tepid response on the Internet.  Generally, I hear that it's not funny enough, that the callbacks are cutesy, and it's just a complicated mess.  Were people expecting something just as good as the original?  Were they expecting fewer callbacks?  They... they weren't expecting something *simple*, were they?

At the risk of humblebragging, I'm having a grand old time with season four.  Most of my reaction to the first three episodes still applies here, but now, I'm feeling a lot more patient with the show's dizzying side-trips into little complicated exposition dumps like, say, all the convoluted arguments that lead to the masked-hookup between Tony and GOB.  I know that once that's done with, we'll be back to this massive, bizarre jigsaw puzzle, in which literally every offer that shows up in an episode interlocks with another offer somewhere else.

It's just exhilirating to see what they're shooting for here, and to see all the ways these episodes interrelate.  This aspect of the show isn't "funny" so much as "breathtaking".  It's like a magic trick that's sustained over hours and hours.

That said, Mo Ryan made a very valid point: the lack of a network telling them to pare each episode down to nineteen minutes hurts them.  You can always see the bits that would absolutely be cut in "airing on FOX" version of the show.  GOB's sustained, gasping, gibberish morning-after monolog to Ann lasts so long that it becomes some bizarre kind of performance art, and it's something I can't look away from, but I only laughed a little at it, and it was that confused, "my-god-what-is-happening" kind of laugh.  You *know* that would be the first thing cut for time.  And after all those expendable parts were removed, you'd be left with something leaner and more consistently funny.  But yet it would be less strange.  Less idiosyncratic.  You'd lose those bizarre little blind alleys.

I honestly don't know how those two factors balance out against each other.  Maybe they're better off with the longer episodes?  Maybe it's worse?

In any case, I've been delighting in watching every episode twice, and I'm sure I'll come back to it again in the future, just to see how all of its Swiss-watch mechanisms interlock.

Side note: also, that "Getaway" song is obnoxiously catchy, and the fact that it only seems to be two or three lines of a song means that its earworm-repeat period is about ten seconds.

Probably won't watch much this week, as I'll be mostly busy with the improv marathon.

[1] I was mostly just depressed and contemplative.  Also, this Lucy Mangan quote seems to apply: "Being able to look back on your youth as it unfolds is as sure a way to strip the pleasure from it as you could hope to find."
[2] TV critics joke that if you watch the "Crime Broadcasting Network" for a few months, you will learn every single way to kill somebody.
[3] Compare this to a show like Terriers, which almost willfully blows off the crime-of-the-week format for long stretches of its run.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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