Housing crisis

If it weren’t for that meddling Hugh Laurie… Seriously, I find few things in TV land as annoying as writerly laziness – and House, M.D. has become one of the laziest shows in that respect. We’re now almost at the end of season 7 in Switzerland, and when they’re not paying attention I’m sure I keep catching the series regulars avoid each others’ looks in embarrassment. Laurie still does a good (though no longer great) job, as does Robert Sean Leonard, but you have to feel sorry for the likes of Chase, Foreman, Taub and the other hapless sidekicks.

House has rarely been a terribly original show, and part of its appeal was its utterly formulaic structure. Once you’ve seen half a dozen of episodes, you know what expects you: weird symptoms manifest themselves, the team makes a first diagnosis and starts treatment, the patient gets worse, more treatment, more escalation, the apparent solution followed by a major crisis, then House – usually while talking to Wilson – has an epiphany based on some more or less feeble pun or metaphor emerging from the conversation he’s just had and solves the case. Patient saved, in 49 out of 50 cases, otherwise cue patient’s poignant death accompanied by some melancholy singer-songwriter droning on about love and loss and dead puppies.

It’s not that the show is samey; it’s that the bits where the show could at least be somewhat different from week to week, the soap opera/comedy bits, have become really, really inept. I’ve stopped counting the moments where House says something offensive, inappropriate or weird and we get reaction shots from the other characters that could be out of a cheapo ’80s sitcom. It doesn’t help that the episode “Bombshells”, which tries (though not all that successfully) to mix up the format, does a scene parodying sitcom clichés when the actual show in business-as-usual mode delivers lazy versions of those same clichés.

At this point, as much as it pains me to say it, I am seriously thinking that House, M.D. should’ve been put down like an old, sick dog. Let Laurie move on to something where he can make better use of his talents. I’m happy if Leonard tags along. But now, giving us Olivia Wilde to look at simply isn’t enough to keep things very interesting. Sorry, Gregory – I’m just not that into you anymore.

P.S.: Is it just me, or is this music video quite possibly one of the weirdest things to result from the series?

You cannot be series!

It’s that time of year. No, not Christmas (which this is too late for anyway), not the end of one year and the beginning of another.

It’s time for a new series.

Within a short period we finished Carnivale and got to the end of the current (well, for Swiss standards) seasons of Fringe, True Blood and House. (The latter, while still blessed with a great main actor, should slowly be put out of its misery, mind you.) So, what were we to watch next? Mad Men? The Shield? I, Claudius?

What we went for instead: the grandpappy of the HBO series that I’ve gone on about at great and boring length before. Not the grandmother, Sex & the City, because the moment I start watching that series you may want to look out the window for four guys on horses. No, I’m talking about the testosterone-riddled Oz. Looking at the setting and cast, it very much looks like an audition for later series such as The Sopranos (hi, Edie!) or The Wire (seriously, does Bodie only come with a single change of clothes that he takes along to every series he does?). Like many of these other series, Oz takes something that is relatively high concept and sees what it can do with it. In this case, the concept is: let’s do a high-security prison series that isn’t about trying to escape and that doesn’t outstay its welcome three episodes into season 1.

Make no mistake: this is no Prison Break. This isn’t pulpy escapism with the occasional white supremacist of imprisoned mobster thrown in for light relief. It’s grandly operatic drama with shower rapes, murder and ethical dilemmas. It’s also strangely Spike Lee; perhaps it’s the racial tensions that feel a bit like a ’90s update of Do the Right Thing, but mainly it’s the directorial flourishes, camera and lighting work, and the stylised elements – especially the Greek chorus-type soliloquies provided by Harold Perrineau Jr.’s character (with Waaaaaaalt! barely a twinkle in his fresh-from-Romeo & Juliet eyes).

It’s also these soliloquies that are most responsible for me not taking to the series as immediately as I took to a lot of other HBO fare. Again, like Spike Lee, though at his worst, the speeches are often too on-the-nose and too smugly enamoured of their cleverness (which they aren’t – often they belabour the obvious) that they feel like a 21-year old film student’s “Wouldn’t it be artistic if…?” at 2am in the morning after lots of cheap red wine and Foucault.

Having said that, while we cringe at some of the series’ moments, we’re in it for the duration – not least because I’ve got the complete set. The material’s definitely interesting, and I’m happy to give Oz a chance to drop its self-conscious ‘tude and become more confident with what it’s doing and how it’s doing it. Who knows, it may even get to join the pantheon of those HBO greats by the end of the final season.

Well, if it doesn’t, at least it isn’t stuck on constant reruns of the same episode, with only the faces and the names of syndromes changing, or eager to do the tired, old “Will they, won’t they?” spiel. I bet I’m not the only one who wishes, in the case of certain other series, that it were lupus. The terminal kind.

Shame I’ve already used “A Death in the Family”…

Anyway, it’s really two deaths I’ll be writing about. And the whole notion of family… well, let’s put it this way. It’s complicated.

I’m currently rewatching The Sopranos and I just finished season 3 (“… In which an old friend’s son is shot in the back of the head and Meadow interrupts a sentimental song with thrown chunks of bread and a rendition of a Britney Spears classic”). While the series dealt in ambiguities from the very beginning, season 3 is perhaps the first one where the audience’s complicity is brought to the fore. We root for Tony Soprano, paterfamilias to two families, but for all his charm and for all our sympathy for him (when he’s not being an asshole to the people around him) he is evil – if he is defined by who he is and what he does, he’s evil. Less so than the outright psychos in his entourage (I’m mainly looking at you, Paulie and Ralphie) and more self-aware, but he enables them and depends on them and their actions for his own success.

Up to the end of season 3, we’ve never seen him quite this manipulative and hypocritical, and now it’s seeping into his children more and more. Knowing quite well on one level that her idiot ex was killed because of the system her father upholds, she now defends it – to the face of idiot ex’s sister and with a degree of self-righteousness that is nauseating.

He's behind you!

The problem I have with rewatching The Sopranos, though, is that differently from, say, Deadwood, Six Feet Under or (most of all) The Wire the episodes and seasons are pretty much exchangeable. There’s very little character development – which may be the point, but if you could watch the episodes in pretty much any order and the only thing you can determine by whether it’s season 1, 3 or 6 is how old the kids are and whether Pussy Bompensiero is around? In my books that diminishes the lasting appeal and success of the series.

Talking of deaths in series: since Switzerland is a couple of months behind the States with respect to TV, we only got to see the House season 4 finale now… and what a downer that one was. Even though season 4 was the shortest season of the series ever, most of the episodes after House had chosen his new team felt like retreads (or, in fact, re-re-retreads), but the two finale episodes, “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart”, were among the best and definitely the emotionally strongest episodes. I remember pretty much hating Robert Sean Leonard in Much Ado About Nothing, but together with Hugh Laurie he carries the series even in its most generic episodes. Give him material such as this and he absolutely shines. (And I don’t know what it is, but give me a well-acted man crying his eyes out in a series and I get a big lump in my throad…)

I still don’t think that Kate Beckinsale is talented or particularly beautiful, though, so there.

Give me Emma and Kenneth any time. Please.

No more House calls for a while

On Monday, Swiss television showed the season 3 finales of both House, M.D. and Lost. We haven’t seen the latter yet, but it probably says it all that the best moment of House, at least for me, was the Chase/Cameron kiss. That scene was sweet, but the actual medical case was too vague and the character interaction not very interesting. The House vs. God angle had also been done previously. All in all it felt like the series could do with a couple of months off. Seeing as season 4, cut short by striking writers, is just about over in the States, we might get it fairly soon…

Gregory House, looking dark and depressed in between snarky quips

… but first, we’ve got the grand return of Grey’s Anatomy (at a point where I sometimes feel that if I have to watch McDreamy be a self-righteous, self-infatuated git for another minute, I’ll find the actor and put his face through a meat grinder), doubled up with Private Practice, the Grey spin-off that got started in an atrociously written and at best adequately acted two-parter on its mother series.

How’s a man to cope – especially when this man knows that there are only six more episodes of Deadwood? Like, ever? Come to think of it, I’d like to see a cross-over where some select characters from Grey’s Anatomy and perhaps Desperate Housewives stop by the picturesque little town of Deadwood. Derek Shepherd could open a practice with Dan Doherty as opthalmologist. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here, unless you’re still hoping to watch season 3 of Deadwood.)

Six Feet Under is also almost over – two more episodes. What next? We’ve got a fair choice of series: Rome, The Wire, Carnivàle, season 6 of The Sopranos. Then there’s more escapist or pulpy fare: Heroes, Veronica Mars, Joan of Arcadia, Dexter. I’ve heard very good things about the latter series, especially season 2 – which came as a bit of a surprise, as the second Dexter novel was quite a bit weaker than the first. I guess that sometimes film and TV can improve on books…

And to end this very meandering blog entry, here’s a YouTube clip – the very effective opening credits for Dexter, a show whose ‘hero’ is a serial killer… who is intent on only killing ‘bad guys’:

A death in the family

Phew. He’s dead. And even though I knew it was going to happen – heck, I’d seen it before – it’s still amazing how much it got to me.

Rest in peace, Nathaniel Fisher Jr. You were often frightened, stupid, self-righteous, passive-aggressive (and lately just plain aggressive) and self-centred… but I’ll miss you.

Before Nate died, you did WHAT to him?!

We also watched another episode of Lost yesterday, namely “The Man Behind the Curtain”. It seems that the series makers have realised that you can’t just keep heaping mysteries onto the viewer without also revealing a thing or two, and the series definitely benefits from it. Also, I definitely like John Locke, Zealot more than the dithering Locke in the latter half of season 2. Hey, sometimes you just need to knock out a one-eyed Russian to make your point!

Also, note to all fathers reading this: Never, ever forget your son’s birthday every year – because otherwise he might just end up gassing you to death on some mysterious Hawaiian island. And some con-man from down South may just end up popping the skull off your dessicated remains to make the audience laugh.

Mother****ing House on the mother****ing plane!

Just in case you didn’t get the reference…

“Airborne”, yesterday’s episode of House, M.D., was fun. I like it when they shake up the format, even though the episode was a tad high-concept (“House on a Plane!” Well, you get it…) Seeing the doc try to deal with the situation without his lackeys was enjoyably snarky:

House: Can you say “Crikey Mate”?
12 year-old Boy: Crikey Mate.
House: Perfect. Now no matter what I say, you’ll agree with me, okay.
12 year-old Boy: Okay.
House: Nicely done. You, disagree with everything I say.
Foreign Man: Sorry, not understand.
House: Close enough. (to random woman) You get morally outraged by everything I say.
Sour Faced Girl: (about House writing on the movie screen) That’s permanent marker, you know.
House: Wow, you guys are good.

The editing between the two storylines kept the episode dynamic throughout – and I’ve started to feel sympathy for Chase since last episode (especially the glow on his face when he looked at Cameron’s photo). So far he’d been the blandest of the supporting characters, but there’s something genuinely sweet – if still not terribly deep – to his growing feelings for Cameron. She, on the other hand, is becoming somewhat grating: the combination of self-righteous and self-indulging may be credible, but I find myself thinking, “How about you keep your mouth shut and your pants zipped for ten minutes, girl…” (Yes, every now and then I guess I am a bit of a sexist. Sorry. Feel free to throw things at me.)

In other not-so-news: we started watching season 3 of Deadwood, and boy, is the air thick with ominousness… ominosity- ominiminy? Well, you know what I mean. Quite obviously, Hearst is not a good egg, nor is he the kind of moustachioed bad egg who keeps heads in boxes and whom we secretly like. I can’t really put my finger on it, but there’s something in the balmy frontier air, and it’s not Calamity Jane’s heady aroma. We’ll see where this’ll take us, but somehow I doubt it will be anywhere nice. Or perhaps the episode’s title was ironic: “Tell your God to Ready for Blood” might really be the prelude to a season of goodwill, cheer and fluffy bunnies in Deadwood (no state yet).

The wedding of the century (19th century, that is)

Sorry, Magenta. This is another one of those pesky Deadwood entries that may just risk giving something away to you. Don’t worry, though – we’ve now finished season 2, so you can get started on that one whenever you wish.

For everyone else: Deadwood season finales are strange beasts. They’re a fascinating combination of carnage and sentimentality. Quite probably there are more deaths in this episode called “Boy the Earth Talks to” than in any other episode of the series so far. People hang themselves or get stabbed in the middle of the thoroughfare. Throats get cut. Juxtaposed with this, there’s Alma Garrett’s wedding to Ellsworth (whose first name, by the way, is Whitney – who’d have thunk?) looking eminently uncomfortable wearing lavender gloves.

All the rigour in New York, apparently…

What else? George Hearst has finally made it to Deadwood, after having been spoken about in hushed, ominous tones for an entire season (so far he looks non-threatening enough, but my gut tells me that will change); the cards dealer reborn as preacher gets his own back at Cy Tolliver (and I’m slowly getting away from seeing Zach Grenier only as Ed Norton’s poor boss in Fight Club); and Garrett Dillahunt makes us wonder who he’ll turn up as in season 3.

Meanwhile, in other series news: Greg House gets all sentimental after a 21-week old fetus grabs his thumb (things that make you undecided whether you should go “Awww…” or “Ewww…”); Lost continues its employment programme for Deadwood actors (it’s Joanie Stubbs’ turn again – now we just need Alma Garrett and perhaps Jewel); and Sawyer’s looking eminently silly with his ponytail, but there’s something sweet about seeing him conned by Hurley. Bless.

Two deaths and three funerals… followed by two more deaths

Yesterday’s TV evening was marked by a high number of funerals. The deaths I sort of expected – after all, we did watch Deadwood – but I could have done without the ominous onslaught of funerals. House, M.D. managed to do without a death, as it pulled off its last-minute Eureka! moment, House saving the hard-done by Marc Blucas at the last moment. (As if his breakup with Buffy hadn’t already done enough damage…) Then we zapped into some series with Craig T. Nelson (I don’t know what he’s doing on telly anyway – shouldn’t Poltergeist have taught him to stay away from the flickertube?) and an epic African-American funeral, complete with gospel choir. This was followed by the quite heart-rending Deadwood episode “Let the whores come” (and only Al Swearengen can pull off asking the whore who’s giving him his daily blowjob whether she’s dyed her hair and almost seem considerate).


But the whole thing was topped by the double-funeral, followed by double-death (très E.A. Poe) of Nikki and Paulo, Lost‘s most hated characters since… well, depending on who you ask, since Kate or Ana Lucia or Jack or Charlie or Boone or Shannon or practically anyone. Except Hurley. No one seems to hate Hurley. (Okay, not true. There are people who hate him – but there’s only one TV Hurley that everyone can agree to hate.)

Hurley by name…

It’s called Deadwood… What did you expect?

Okay, I know that there’s at least one reader out there who hasn’t seen Deadwood season 2 yet and is planning to do so. This is where I tell you, very politely, to come back tomorrow, lest ye read a spoiler.

Still there? I’m warning you, there be spoilers!

Well, that’s about all I can do. If you’re still reading, well, I won’t take any responsibility. So there.

Yesterday evening, after two middling episodes of House, M.D., we watched the pen-penultimate episode of the sophomore season of Deadwood, aptly entitled “Advances, None Miraculous”. In it, we were reminded (after several episodes that seemed to suggest differently) that Al Swearengen can still be the scariest mother****er in the Valley of Death, if he wants to be. And all without drawing a weapon.

We were also shown that when he needs to be, Sol Star is just as much of a badass. After seeing Al frighten Mrs Isringhausen – not exactly a shrinking violet herself – into signing a piece of paper, accepting $10’000 and getting the hell out of Dodge in a brilliant piece of Al-manship, we get Sol telling him in his face that he won’t stand for bad Jew jokes. Now that takes a pair… or stupidity, but I’ve always thought of Sol as the intelligent one in the Star-Bullock friendship. (Except occasionally, when he’s led by his privates rather than by his brain.)

None miraculous

However, the emotional centrepiece of the episode was the protracted death of William Bullock. It was quite heartrending to see Sheriff Bullock face a crisis that he can’t beat down with his fists. William’s dying was a moving counterpoint to the political wheelings and dealings about the coming annexation of Deadwood, affecting everyone in their own way.

Talking about affecting: I’ve gone on at great length about The Assassination of J.J. by the Coward R.F. before. Yesterday I made the mistake of checking out the Nick Cave/Warren Ellis soundtrack of the movie on Amazon.com. The dark, subtle elegiac tunes (or rather the 20-second clips that Amazon plays for free) got to me to the extent that I felt the pull of the movie all day afterwards. Tunes like “Rather Lovely Thing” or “Song for Jesse” wormed their way into my heart, making me feel sad for semi-fictional characters long dead for hours.

P.S.: When I read who’d composed the music together with Nick Cave, I had this momentary vision of the writer of Transmetropolitan scribbling darkly sentimental tunes on some sheets in between writing another tasteless, hilarious, biting chapter of his near-future satire. For all I know, it is the same Warren Ellis. Then again… No. Probably not.