NOW TV: ‘Revolution’ Starts, ‘Abbey’ & ‘Empire’ Return

Downton Abbey Mary Matthew Kissing

I’m going to begin this completely off headline and mention the Weeds finale on Sunday night, which was nothing like what I was expecting.  And that’s about the only half-assed, backhanded compliment I can give it.

I did a little snooping around the TV fan forums a week or so ago to see what people thought of the last season, which doesn’t appear to be much.  It seems I was one of the few who thought it was an improvement over seasons five and six; everyone else thought it was slow, unworthy of the show, which must mean it was leading up to something big.  While reading posts and threads, I stumbled on one by a guy, presumably a Ghey, who postulated that this entire season was a dream Nancy was having while in a coma after being shot in the head.  Everything was being reconciled in her subconscious: she was moving towards being legit, finally a good mother to her youngest child, and had come complete circle to live once again in the idyllic but more upscale ‘burbs that are Old Sandwich, CT (a play on Old Greenwich).  In the last episode, wrote the poster, the story would come back to the hospital where Nancy was really brain dead, and the gang would pull the plug, Nancy’s body would die, everyone would sob.  End of series.

No such luck.  Instead we were treated to a flash forward nine years or so from the penultimate episode to her youngest son’s bar mitzvah, which brings everyone together for lots of hand wringing and reconciling and moments of not-very-lucid insight into themselves, and then this lame ending with everyone passing around a legal joint, and even Nancy—who has hitherto been limited to sucking on iced lattes through a straw—takes a toke.

The interminable final shot in Weeds delivers zero emotion.

However, as lame as I found it, an online friend loved it, and was howling last night about how an era was over.  Then again, he’s Canadian—pot is a birthright for them, and an emotional issue with their hated, hateful cousins south of the border.

So, no more Ma Botwin and her man children.  Onward.

[heading]BOARDWALK EMPIRE[/heading]

Former co-star Michael Pitt’s character Jimmy Darmondy was whacked at the end of last season, at the same time Pitt himself was dumped by his long-time agent at UTA.  There were too many stories floating around that Pitt was both a nightmare client and a pain in the ass on set for them not to be somewhat credible.  The show’s exec producer Terrence Winter insists the storyline demanded it—after all, the show is about Steve Buscemi’s oddly likeable character Nucky Thompson, not Pitt’s—but I’m not convinced.  I think if the character is popular with viewers and there’s the right chemistry at work, then chances are you’re going to keep the job.  If not, you end up just another surprise plot device to spice up a season finale, a symbolic stuffed turkey served up for Thanksgiving.

I’ve never been a Michael Pitt fan, and I’ve probably seen almost everything he’s been in (he tends to make my kind of film), even Gus van Sant’s End of Days, in which he played an unlikely Kurt Cobain in his final hours.  He said little, and when he did he slurred and grunted, and all he was given to do was flop around the house or the woods with his hair flopped in his face.  He did the same in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.  There is such a thing as being too cool, and at a certain point it stops being James Dean and becomes simply recherché and you want to smack the guy. 

Michael Pitt

Michael Pitt. Oh, take a shower, already.

Boardwalk Empire was probably the most mainstream thing Pitt has done, and he was more engaged and present in the role than he’s ever been, but if he didn’t pick up bigger projects after that exposure—his most notable attachment right now is Oliver Stone’s Vietnam-era Pinkville—then I’m not sure what even his new agent at WME, Ari Emanuel, can do for him; I’ll bet most filmmakers out there feel the way I do.  And if he’s a pain in the ass to work with… Why bother when work is so precious right now?

And what about those lips?  I know that it’s all about the eyes and mouth with a screen actor, but that is just too much lips.  Pitt’s lips make Angelina Jolie’s blush and asked in a shrill, panicked voice, “We don’t look that fat, do we?”  No, darling, you don’t—that’s just indecent and distracting.

As for Boardwalk Empire itself, it is without doubt one of the strongest shows out there, certainly the one with the best production values—the sets, the camerawork, the editing, the music/sound, et al are all sumptuous.  Gangster-themed films and shows in general don’t really appeal to me; they’re about sociopaths, and sociopaths are one-note and ultimately boring, and my personality type is such that I can’t connect with characters I whose behavior is so alien to mine.

Buscemi is starting to look like an Ent from Lord of the Rings, and while he’s a decent performer to watch, he can’t make me tune in to the show all by himself.  Kelly Macdonald as his Irish wife is the best thing in it for my money, which is a totally faggy thing to say, but they lost me from the opening scene this season, when Bobby Cannavale’s character gratuitously clubs an old man to death with a tire iron just for sassing him slightly.  According to the show’s creators, the rest of the season promises more gangsters than usual, with the rise of Al Capone and presumably a major threat coming from Cannavale’s direction.  I’ll tune in every once in a while to catch up, but I’m not tuning in every Sunday like I am for

[heading]DOWNTON ABBEY[/heading]

Oh, baby, I am such a fag for this show it’s embarrassing.  I am a big screaming girl’s blouse when it comes to DA.  Whatever butch points I get for wanting to eat Breaking Bad are stripped when I get all tingly with emotion as Matthew and Mary make up at the last minute of the first episode and finally make it down the aisle.

We knew from the end of last season that Lord Crowley was going to lose the family fortune, but when the scenes rolled around in the actual episode, my instinct was to launch an online Kickstarter campaign to help the family out.  Not a thought about paying my own rent, of course.  We have to keep Downton alive somehow!

However, Lady Crowley’s reaction when she hears that her husband has lost her fortune, which was to be more concerned about how he was feeling, was absurd.  And Lord Crowley’s shock that his wife had obtained a loftier state of enlightenment than the Dalai Lama himself was likewise underplayed.  I would have said some British toff version of, “What the fuck you on, bitch?  We’re BROKE!”  But instead he marvels at her Dalai Lama-ness, to which she replies, “I’m American.  Have gun, will travel.”

Oh.  Pfft. No.

To paraphrase Lady Violet, an American without money is as useful as a glass hammer.  Maybe if she were some daffy, histrionic heiress like Barbara Hutton we’d accept a devil-may-care reaction to losing her status, house and fortune, but this is a regular conservative aristo whose entire persona is vested in that family and that home.  So I didn’t but that, and the needle screeched across my internal record during that scene.

Shirley MacLaine Downton Abbey

She’s from New York, not Miami.

The same applies to all that the pre-season brouhaha about Shirley MacLaine outshining Maggie Smith.  That turns out to have been more publicist/brown-nosing entertainment-journalist rubbish.  When I first heard it, I thought, unless MacLaine has developed some new gravitas, a humor-full dignity greater than Smith’s, there is just no way she’s touching Head Bitch in Charge of this show.  MacLaine has always been a female showbiz Bob Fosse hoofer-clown.  And then she had all these past lives and blah blah, hee hee, that sort of thing.  True, Lady Violet does seemed a tad toned down this season, but MacLaine is just doddering: she’s always a beat or two behind with her lines, and her lipstick is too red.

Once again, our closest allies and biggest haters across the pond choose to portray even upper-class New Yorkers, endowed with fortunes large enough to prop up earldoms, as being brash and vulgar, as aging showgirls, in this case literally.  And while rich American men did marry with their dicks and not their social insecurities, it wasn’t often.  Did anyone consult Edith Wharton before taking the MacLaine route?

Watching both Boardwalk Empire (where the MacLaine character really belongs) and Downton Abbey back to back on Sunday night left me in a bit of a shock for the next show,


There I was, swimming in the 20s with great dialogue and costumes and thoughtful plot in two very different shows, and then I was rudely thrust through some time-warp juju portal into a JJ Abrams-concocted dystopian future where somehow the power is gone from the world, as well as all intelligence and wit, presumably by some supernatural force; that’s what Abrams and his team at Bad Robot do: Explain it all away with an unrealistic parallel-universe fold-twist-push-shove that everyone somehow buys into, or they’re expected to.  Not I.

The director for the pilot for this series is Jon Favreau, once the writer and star of one the more cogent, memorable—yes, I shall say it even though it sounds pornographic—seminal comedies of the latter part of the last century, Swingers, who directed Iron Man and launched a huge franchise for Marvel & Company, as well as rebooting the career of that meth-head has-been Ribert Downey Jr. to the point of making him the highest-paid star in Hollywood (I still can’t believe that really happened).  And Favreau played a major role in Obama’s 2008 election as the Prez’s speechwriter, which you would never believe from the state of Revolution’s script.  All it does is show that Favreau is intent on polishing turds for the studios—he’s now directing the film version of the jukebox musical Jersey Boys—as long as he can have a burger and fries for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Or… I have no idea where I went with that, but I feel I’m wasting enough precious words on this show and Favreau, and wearing out the keyboard on my laptop needlessly.


Yeah, there’s lots of this.

The upside to Revolution is almost all of the leads are eminently fuckable.  They are ‘hunnies,’ as Favreau so charmingly coined them in Swingers.  Again, the biggest clunker is the dialogue; I don’t recommend watching this after Downton Abbey or you might stop speaking English altogether in despair.

Giancarlo Esposito is doing a Kool-Aid version of his smooth tequila Patrón añejo on ice role from Breaking Bad.  It’s sadism without the wit, but it’s not his fault, it’s the script.  The best thing is the sets and CGI, the way they’ve recreated an abandoned world.  But pay attention to what the background characters are doing when they first go to Chicago.  I did, because I was so distracted by what a cliché Western frontier gold-mining town they were.  Just awful direction.

The Instagram look has finally moved to TV, as well, as it was bound to; I was wondering only the other night how long that would take.  But it’s only in the scenes where the heroes are in the pastoral town they are forced to leave by Esposito’s character and other nefarious forces.  Yes, even utopia in the dystopian future—which just never seems to happen, by the way, and we’re already nearly thirty years away from 1984—looks like Instagram.

Watch the other two, but give this one a big miss.


Comments: 2

  • JamesTuttle September 18, 201210:21 pm

    Good one! Of the three, I’d probably only watch Downton Abbey once I’m able to figure out how to see it from the beginning on a screen larger than my laptop. From the commercials, Revolution already looked like Lost plus that Will Smith-in-deserted-New York movie I mentioned today.  With a little Hunger Games thrown in.

  • ericjbaker September 20, 20127:53 pm

    You know, I kept seeing the promos for Revolution and thinking, “Wow. That’s gonna be cool. That’s my kind of show.”
    But that was the part of me that lies to myself. The part that tells the truth (but gets ignored) said, “Man , there’s just something off about that show. It looks bad.”
    I made it through the first 10 minutes, then I turned off the TV.

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