A quick collection of things that I’m finding fascinating, frustrating and fun on TV this past week.
What the heck happened to Justified?
When I think about Justified in its prime I think fondly back to season 2 when a shrewd Mags Bennett and her bumbling sons tried to expand their marijuana business with Raylan Givens breathing down their necks. Season 2 expanded on the world of Harlan County while also creating a central, overarching storyline that all but did away with the more standalone cases of Season 1. Season 2 felt fresh, exciting and created characters as rich and complicated as the central ones. By establishing a criminal family that had a history in the area as well as a past that crossed Raylan’s own, the show found a groove that it hasn’t found since.
And now we are three seasons removed from Justified at its peak and the show still feels like it is spinning its wheels. Despite his wife, Winona, and baby daughter moving to Florida to escape the constant danger that living with Raylan brought them, Raylan remains in Harlan. Stuck. And because of this the show feels stuck, too. Justified has always been, at its heart, a show about how your family can shape you, trying to escape “the sins of the father” and how the hero/villain label can be passed on to you from birth. Raylan is stuck in Harlan because of his past but also because he feels that, if he leaves, there will be no one else who can wipe the almost comically abundant criminal element out of the area. Throughout the seasons, this criminal element has always been embodied by one Boyd Crowder, the villainous through-line from seasons 1-5. And even though Justified has attempted to build on that criminal element, bringing in out-of-towners (folks from New York and Canada no less) to up the ante, Boyd has been a constant, ludicrously keeping himself out of the prison system for the most part, despite doing many insanely illegal things.
But Season 5 starts by doing something kinda smart. The show begins to look back in on itself and expands another criminal family: the Crowes. The Crowes have been around from the very start of the series in the form of Dewey Crowe, one of Boyd’s former neo-Nazi associates. They aren’t quite as sophisticated in their organization as Mags Bennett and what makes them interesting is their constant fracturing. And they fracture with the best of them. This season gives us some fine creatures like Daryl and Wendy Crowe but the season’s best creation is young Kendal Crowe. Kendal is forced to decide throughout the season if he truly is “a Crowe” which seems to mean deciding whether or not he’s a murderous asshole. In many ways Kendal acts like a Lorretta McReady-redux, the young girl from Season 2 that Raylan has to save despite her protestations (in my estimation a rather weak link in an otherwise exceptional season for characters). Kendal has been surrounded by illegal activity seemingly from birth and, in this regard, he’s supposed to remind us of Raylan himself. Kendal’s a hardened kid and has seen many awful things working in the Crowe’s whorehouse, but he’s not bad and when he witnesses a gruesome, shocking murder midseason it shakes him to the core. The fascinating thing about Kendal is that, unlike everyone else on Justified, he hasn’t chosen a side. He isn’t a good guy but he certainly isn’t a bad guy either. He’s on the wrong side of the law because of his family but he’s still a kid, with room for hope. By the end of the season we don’t really know what Kendal’s decision is. He could turn out to be Raylan, he could be Boyd and it is satisfying that the show doesn’t allow for a conclusion on that front yet.
But this ignores my nagging complaint about season 5 (beyond the truly awful Ava Crowder, Orange is the New Black, subplot). As good as some of these characters are and as interesting as the ever-expanding “sins of the father” theme is, we are no further ahead in the growth of Raylan Givens. Raylan is the same guy he was at the very beginning. He’s a guy that is driven by a personal vendetta and almost nothing more. Family, love, sex – nothing seems to drive him like “getting his man”. At the end of season 5, when Raylan makes the decision to stay in Harlan County so he can go after Boyd Crowder once and for all (after promising Winona he’d move to Florida to be with her and his daughter), the decision is easy. Too easy. Raylan Givens might be the most selfish character on TV. And this is interesting. But the decision has the effect of making the entire season, the whole Crowe family saga that has taken up the majority of its time, obsolete. Truth is, everything that happened in season 5 was all a diversion to the real deal. Sure, season 6 will probably be great. Who doesn’t want to see Raylan and Boyd go head to head, finally? But that’s the operative word: finally. I hate to think of an entire season of television as set up but I think that’s what we will be left with when all is said and done, when the dust settles.
Everyone’s a critic
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat 15 pancakes in one sitting or what it would feel like to be a racist or what addiction is like? Well, wonder no more!
In Comedy Central’s new show Review, Forrest MacNeil (played by Andy Daly) will review these “real-life events” for you. Review is a remake of a show of the same name (well, almost, the other one ended in a “with Myles Barlow” tag) and concept that originally aired in Australia. Nothing is too absurd for MacNeil, so if he gets asked what divorce is like you better believe that he’ll be signing and countersigning those papers pronto. The concept of the show is simple: “real” people write in and ask MacNeil to do something ridiculous and then he goes out and does it. In every episode he tests three different life events and part of the fun is that these three seemingly random tests have a cascading and usually darkly comedic effect throughout the episode. In the first episode (and I think the best in this regard), MacNeil reviews “stealing”, “addiction” and “the prom” and the ripple effect that act one and two have on act three is pretty wonderful. Review is a bit similar to Nathan For You in that each episode sets up a challenge for its main character. Review has a little less bite than Nathan for You, though, in that it is entirely scripted and doesn’t use real people as the butt of the joke. In some ways, this is its biggest down-fall as you don’t really know enough about the MacNeil character yet to root for or against him. There are certainly better shows to watch currently on Comedy Central (let’s all make a solemn vow that we will watch Inside Amy Schumer and follow her gospel) but Review is fun and absurd and harmless and Andy Daly plays the smug, oblivious, but oh-so gung-ho host to a tee. It’s like watching your favourite math teacher happily destroy his life based on audience suggestion.
Remember music videos?
Why not take a moment out of your busy day to watch this excellent fan-made video for the CVRCHES song “ Strong Hand”? The video is so much fun that the band itself tweeted about how truly amazing it is:
I’m a little late in catching up with the Veronica Mars movie. I enjoyed it as a whole but the most fascinating thing about it for me was the physical transformation of Jason Dohring who plays Logan Echolls. In the original series Logan Echolls was always on the douche bag spectrum of “most likely to day-trade” but now, because Dohring has thinned-out and his eyes seem softer, Logan is played with much more vulnerability. This works tremendously well with what is going on with his character in the movie.
Recently I decided that it would be a lot of fun if there was a Gay of Thrones-esque recap show for Reign.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, this past Sunday’s episode marked the first time in the series that I have been genuinely surprised by a major plot point. All of the other big moments have been spoiled for me by the general pop culture ether or well-meaning friends. So way-to-go, world! I am certainly intrigued by even a momentary plunge into mystery/whodunnit waters.