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

Thursday (3/19/15) 8:17pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Books:  <none>
Movies:  <none>
TV:  Adventure Time [season 2], Fargo [1x01-1x05]

Adventure Time [season 2]
This is season two of Cartoon Network's surreal animated fantasy about a boy and his shapeshifting dog.

I really don't have much to add here to what I said about season 1: it's still fun, it's still whimsical, and one still suspects it might overstay its welcome if the episodes went much past ten minutes apiece.

I'm happy to see them producing a wide variety of stories.  They've given themselves a playset where they can go anywhere they want -- often, that opportunity gets wasted, and you just see a series of timid stories that are all more or less the same.  But no, they cheerfully play a murder mystery ("Mystery Train") or a romantic comedy ("Slow Love", "Her Parents") or the more traditional random adventure story ("Mortal Folly").  If you're going to go episodic and not serialized, then this is the right direction to go with it: every episode explores someplace new.  This is true for every show, but it's especially literal for Adventure Time.

One last side note: I appreciate how this show handles squickiness.  This is perhaps a weird thing to notice.  But in improv, at least in my experience, every story I've seen involving a tween character invariably goes to the well of "let's be creepily sexual to the tween character."  (It's so persistent that I worry a bit about the improv scene, sometimes.  Chill out, guys.)  Anyway, the few times Adventure Time goes to that sort of humor, they actually do it in a rather healthy way, as far as I can tell.  In, say, "Crystals Have Power", Tree Trunks gets creepily affectionate and possessive towards Finn, and our heroes handle it reasonably: they set firm boundaries and carry on with their business.

I feel like I'm reaching a bit to have much to say about this season, because, again, it's just a light, fun lark, with whimsical character designs and a cutely skewed point of view.  Maybe in another year or so I'll drift back to it and watch another season.

Fargo [1x01-1x05]
This is the Noah Hawley drama based on the classic Coen Brothers film.

"The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2006." -- with that one sentence, they square the goddamn circle.

When Fargo was announced, it was generally acknowledged to be a very very bad idea.  TV series based on movies weren't done, outside of a few short-lived commercial and artistic failures.  And taking on Fargo just seemed like madness: you're going to set yourself up for comparisons to arguably the best film from arguably the best American filmmakers alive today?  That seems like a *good* idea?

And what would that show even be?  The original film follows one crime caper from start to finish.  Would we just stretch that out over a season -- even though we know how it ends?  And who in god's name would take on the roles played by William H. Macy or Frances McDormand?  Who in their right mind wants to stand in *those* shadows?

What would be the *point* of this show?

But with that opening caption, announcing it as a "true story" that happened in 2006, they silence a lot of those questions and complaints.  It happens in the same *universe* as the film.  It takes it as given that the film's events happened back in 1987, and now we're in the same world.  And we see a story that's similar in many ways.  Lester Nygaard shares a lot of similarities with Jerry Lundegaard.  Molly Solverson has similarities to Marge Gunderson.

But right off the bat, the story is absolutely different.  There's no fake-kidnapping attempt kicking everything off.  Instead, we have Lorne Malvo, a sinister sociopath, coming to town and setting several crimes in motion.  And almost immediately, you get that they're going for the same tone as the film, the same *types* of actions as the film, and even a few direct connections to events from the film, but that's it.  It's more like the film is a piece of concept art for the show: "tell a story sort of *like* this."

I spent most of the first half of this season marvelling that it was working at all, let alone that it was working so well. 

The cast is phenomenal.  It's wonderful to see Martin Freeman turn his stock-in-trade meek affability towards relentless, desperate evil.  Nobody knows where Allison Tolman came from (Second City, apparently?), but she's instantly both sympathetic to the audience and sharply convincing as somebody who could theoretically unravel this crime-ridden mess.  And the rest of the cast is full of actors who have been in Coen Brothers films (Billy Bob Thornton) and actors who you just assume *must* have been in Coen Brothers films (Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt).

But even with all that star power, it could have just been a well-written, well-acted, highly competent but bland procedural.  Having the 1996 film as such a specific target gets rid of any sign of blandness.  It makes Malvo tell a parable about the founding of Rome instead of delivering some normal tough-guy banter.  It makes us see a diner scene where somebody recounts a story about subdermal spider eggs.  It makes the cinematography favor wide, wide master shots of the unforgiving, frozen landscape, and just linger there, instead of the usual pace of television editing.

The weird irony is, by trying so hard to suggest a pre-existing movie, Fargo has made itself a unique television show.  And I'm still surprised it's worth watching.

For next week: I'm watching season one of The Venture Bros. while exercising.  I'm reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is fascinating.  Lindsey and I are still listening to Welcome to Night Vale.  We're watching season two of Community (which is still amazing) and puzzling over picking a second comedy to start, now that we're done with Galavant.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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