Arrivederci Roma!

The second season of HBO’s Rome was… well, let’s say that it was less than it could have been. Its main problem was this, it would seem: the series creators realised that Rome wouldn’t be back for a third season. Seeing how they had planned for a five-season arc, they were faced with a dilemma: should they speed up the plot so they could bring it to some semblance of an end, or should they let things play out at the pace they had planned and risk leaving us with yet another Carnivale or Deadwood, ending way before it was finished?

They decided to go for the first option, telescoping their plot for the hoped-for seasons 2, 3 and 4 into the second season. And that’s pretty much what the season felt like: four or five episodes into the story, someone suddenly pressed the Fast Forward button, and off we go like a rocket sled. Pacing? That’s for wimps and people whose series are allowed to run their course.

I remember how frustrated I was especially with Deadwood, where we got three quarters of a complete story. It was as if someone had ripped the last 100 pages from a novel, from every copy ever printed. And then they’d deleted the last 100 pages on every backup of the manuscript. Okay, I realise how thinly stretched the simile is – but the point remains: an unfinished story is a frustrating story.

What is similarly frustrating, though, is a story that doesn’t have time to pace itself. At times the second season of Rome felt like its own “Previously on”: okay, now Brutus is dead! Now Anthony’s in Egypt! Now Servilia’s offed herself! Most of the main characters are dead and have been replaced by twenty-somethings! The kids get half a dozen years older over night! This rushed feel wasn’t necessarily helped by the series’ replacing the young man who had played Octavian with another, slightly older young man playing the same character – while practically all other characters around the same age were still played by the same people!

The letstelleverythingasquicklyaspossiblesowecansqueezeasmuchplotintothisaswecan approach meant that we found some sort of closure, but it also meant that the characters lacked breathing space – and as was the case with so many HBO series, the characters is where it’s at. Brutus’ death, for instance, was still moving, but it could have been infinitely more so with a more generous build-up.

The last episode, though? We were rudely jarred out of Fast Forward, but that meant that at least we had an hour where Rome was returned to its former glory. I admit, I was never too keen on the character of Marc Anthony (as portrayed by James Purefoy): he had all the arrogance and cockiness but little of the charm, which made it all the more difficult for me to understand why certain characters would fall for him. Cleopatra, too, annoyed me more than anything else, striking me as an antique oversexed bimbo with the personality of a urinal.

Give these characters good, meaty deaths, though, and suddenly they become grandiose, they become tragic. They gain the ability to move us. And boy, did they take that opportunity and play it to the fullest. A couple of series have done this: make me care about a character just to kill him or her off – but here it wasn’t a cheap ploy to make us care, it was earned. Anthony and Cleopatra’s deaths, while not the near-perfect scene that Julius Caesar’s murder was, count among the series’ strongest moments, together with the death of Cicero and Lucius Vorenus saving Titus Pullo’s life in the arena.

In spite of the whiplash-inducing pacing problems of the second season, I miss the series. I miss the characters, I miss the plotting and intrigues, I miss the visceral quality of the language and imagery. My hope lies in the Rome movie that is still much more likely to happen than the fabled Deadwood film that’s supposed to wrap up the story. Hey, if HBO can greenlight Sex and the City 2, can’t they spare a few sesterces for Pullo and Vorenus, the most beautiful love story to grace the small screen in years?

Hamsterdam and the gooey kablooie

You have to admire Stringer Bell’s attempts to de-thuggify the Baltimore drug trade. His endeavours to get his business away from the drive-by shootings and everyday violence is one thing; his sweet, endearing (not words easily used when it comes to The Wire, except for everyone’s favourite addict Bubbles) meeting rules are something else altogether. It wouldn’t feel more strange to have these dealers and “soldiers” in the drug war speaking in Jane Austenese.

Season 3 of The Wire once more is among the best TV there is. It’s smart, impeccably crafted and unexpectedly funny. (A shout-out has to go to “My dawg…”.) I’m also finding it less affecting than the second season, though. Is it that the stevedores represented by Frank Sobotka had more pathos? Frank’s final episode nearly had me in tears. Or is it that I, in spite of my impeccable bleeding heart credentials, can relate better to pudgy, corrupt white guys with receding hairlines than to black hoppers slinging red tops and getting hot and bothered about semi-automatics.

There’s more than enough here to get to the viewer, though: Cutty’s attempts to get back into the game after 17 years in prison, or Bunny Colvin’s subversive social experiment born out of a frustration with the shambles and hypocrisy of the war on drugs and a wish to do something, however radical, that might actually break the stalemate and help.

And on that happy note I’d like to thank Amazon for its special offers. (No, I don’t get paid for this. I should, though!) Thanks to them, seasons 4 and 5 of The Wire are on the way and I don’t even feel too guilty about spending the money. I’m slowly running out of interesting HBO series, though… so in one, two years’ time I’ll either be reduced to Sex and the City – or it’s back to Six Feet Under. In which case I might as well rename this blog “Fisher & Sons”.

… like hormonal hobbits, all obsessed with a ring

Anthony Lane is one of my favourite film critics. I don’t always agree with him, but by and large he’s got a great bullshit detector when it comes to movies. His dismembering of Revenge of the Sith is a classic – I got considerably more enjoyment out of it than out of George Lucas’ third dismal prequel:

The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

(Thanks, Robot Chicken.)

The New Yorker website has now put Lane’s review of Sex and the City (one of the few HBO series that would probably make my head explode). Again, it’s great fun to read – I doubt the film could make me laugh half as much:

Secrecy has clouded “Sex and the City” since it was first announced. When would the film appear? Who would find a husband? Would one of the main characters die? If so, would she commit suicide by self-pity (a constant threat), or would a crocodile escape from the Bronx Zoo and wreak a flesh-ripping revenge for all those handbags?

If you like wit as sharp as a well honed knife, do browse Lane’s reviews. Well worth it, especially when it comes to the films you hate.