Posts tagged ‘TV’

The Fall of the Roman Grant

I miss Roman Grant already.

We just caught up on season three of HBO’s Big Love and are already diving into season four, which is about five episodes in. I seemed to recall having some negative thoughts about season two, and sure enough, there they were. (I had totally forgotten an actual producer on the show popped by to discuss my points with me, and I kinda was slightly snarky in response to his snark, but it ended in a cool way.)

I’ll admit–I look back on that post and wonder what I was thinking, but at the same time, I think I approached season three with a slightly freshened take. I took the show more on its own terms; I acknowledge now I probably have an issue with where my expectations for a series and my own hopes for it collide with the reality created on the teevee screen.

At any rate, season three of Big Love was really good stuff. This may come off as insulting, but I absolutely don’t mean it that way–I view Big Love as HBO’s response to Desperate Housewives. I don’t view it as a show that is trying to depict a reality of life as a way of illuminating humanity and the culture in which we live. That’s Sopranos territory; that’s Wire territory. I would say the consensus view is that such art is somehow “superior” to escapism, even if that escapism illuminates the human condition at times in its own way.

Big Love is a series that has its own version of a heightened, altered, soapy TV reality. Though there is certainly polygamy in the world and they may have taken their version of a fundamentalist polygamist sect from real-life reports, any reality in the show’s foundation has been spun into manic flights of emotional and character-based insanity. Attempted murders, secrets kept, teenage boys falling for their dad’s third wife, middle schoolers getting busted for selling nudie mags…to me, it’s a tumultuous, riveting, heightened world they’ve created.

There’s a moment near the end of season three when Sarah Henrickson announces to her parents, Bill and Barb, that she has decided to marry the man who impregnated her outside of wedlock, a child she later miscarried. Barb, Sarah and the fiance confront Bill with the news. Before any real conversation can take place, another of Bill’s wives, Nikki Grant, calls from the polygamist compound where her father is considered a “prophet” and where she has been exiled after admitting a dalliance with the district attorney assigned to prosecute her father’s child molestation case.

(Insane, right? Soapy as hell? Delicious.)

So the call comes in, and suddenly a relatively normal scene of familial tension becomes an elaborate drama conducted via phone, with Bill and all of his wives jumping in to either defend or condemn Nikki in her actions. You see, briefly, Sarah’s crushed expression as she realizes how unreal her life and family have become, and that despite her attempts to alternately accept and dismiss it, she will always be shackled to this circus.

I tend to read the audience’s role into Sarah’s reaction, as if the writers were implicitly admitting that yes, they’ve concocted a melodrama beyond real life and we’re just supposed to strap in and enjoy the ride, something I’m happy to do. The characters are incredible, the situations are outlandish and fun, and the acting is across the board fantastic.

Which brings me to Roman Grant, the now-deceased patriarch of the Juniper Creek polygamist compound, portrayed for three seasons by Harry Dean Stanton. I worship the ground Mr. Stanton walks on, so I would wish him no ill will. But if he were to now retire and never again perform before a camera, his work as Roman Grant would stand as the most remarkable legacy I can imagine to an amazing career and talent.

It’s that good–so sly, nuanced and manic within the span of a second, seductive and scary. You fear the man, you find him pathetic and even laughable, yet you understand above all how the weak-willed could absolutely accept his authority as the voice of God on earth.

Another season three scene burned into my brain–Roman’s final encounter with Bill Henrickson, who is building his own version of “the Principle” with his three wives and eight children. He delivers an intense monologue to Bill about “seizing the Keys” and having the will to claim power from God. It’s chilling…doubly so when a few scenes later, Bill essentially quotes Roman in establishing his own church with his family in his backyard. It underlines the fine line Bill dances between living in a modern world with a modern family and honoring the alternative lifestyle and religion he’s chosen to follow.

More often than not, Bill stumbles onto the wrong side of that line, and never more so than in his many encounters over the years with Roman Grant. At times allies, they’ve more often than not been adversaries. Even as Bill has attempted to distance himself from the compound, he can’t seem to resist this urge to exert his own force of control over it, and doing so has put him on the wrong side of Roman on plenty of occasions. At the same time, the guy’s his father-in-law, and the daughter he married, Nikki, is her father’s child in every respect–manipulative, manic, yet at the same time seductive. You can see why Bill might fall in love with her, even if you can’t imagine why he stays with her.

I don’t know if Roman Grant was my favorite thing about Big Love; Chloe Sevigny’s Nikki is another tour-de-force performance and an amazingly written character, and in his father’s stead, Roman’s son Alby has inherited much of the prophet’s squirm-worthy mannerisms and behavior. But I will miss Roman Grant, and Harry Dean Stanton’s presence on the show. It’s a bold statement, but I’ll make it–he’s one of the best TV villains of all time.

February 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Back to the Late Shift

Andy Ihnatko has a great post up that takes stock of the current kerfuffle in NBC’s late night and the historical background. Like him, I was a huge fan of The Late Shift, Bill Carter’s tell-all book about the last major battle back when Carson retired and it was Leno vs. Letterman for the Tonight Show crown.

Of course, Leno won that battle, and lost in ratings for a bit, only to come back and basically take the lead over Letterman for a good long time. Then Conan O’Brien got named the new Tonight Show host, Leno was given this disastrous 10 p.m. five-nights-a-week series, that series tanked hard, and NBC seems to think it can hit some big reset button and make everyone happy and get Leno back at 11:35 p.m. and then there will be dancing in the streets.

conan03

I’m highly skeptical, and I think that’s what’s going to be the ongoing disaster to watch here: Will this mythical Jay Leno fanbase who have had no interest in him at 10 p.m. suddenly return to the 11:35 p.m. timeslot to watch his show again? Why would they? Was it really that they just HAD to have Jay Leno at that specific time or they weren’t interested?

Just as a mess, I think it’s also done untold damage to Jay Leno’s “image,” such as it was. Sure, he was #1 in 2004 when the “Conan gets Tonight in 2009” scheme was hatched, but as Andy points out, he went along with it and seems to have done so happily. Now he’s stuck in a bad timeslot doing a bad show that no one is watching, and his response is to act like he’s being somehow wronged by a strategy he went happily along with until it turned against him? Meanwhile, Conan seems to have gained universal support as far as I’ve seen, approaching the situation with class and restraint and humor.

You also have to wonder, overall: Does The Tonight Show matter anymore, and if so, how? Ratings have gone down with Conan, but his audience may not be solely the eyeballs that Nielsen ticks off. All he needs is one good viral bit on Hulu to ignite his awareness beyond where it is now. Or are his viewers like me and not making it till 11:35, but happy to DVR the show to watch on the weekends or in the early evening?

And how does this address the true issue, which is that NBC’s 10 p.m. timeslot has become a desperate graveyard of abysmal ratings? Obviously canceling Leno at 10 is a good idea at this point, but how does fucking up late night at the same time help anybody but NBC, who I guess gets to avoid paying out any contract penalties, but would I think also lose a shitload of money by continuing their ratings tailspin, now not just in prime-time but in late night as well?

Anyway. I fucking hate Leno. He’s a sucking hole of comedy failure. He needs to get off the airwaves. Read Andy’s piece, it’s more articulate than I could ever be.

And GO TEAM COCO.

January 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

Community

My wife isn’t sold at all on Community, the new sitcom on NBC Thursday nights starring Joel McHale and Chevy Chase. I’m not 100% sold either, but I think there’s enough THERE there to indicate potential.

community nbc comedy

Her big complaint, and it’s totally valid, is that the relationships between the characters essentially strain credibility to the point of breaking. This is especially true for the two “romantic” leads, Jeff (McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs, to the immediate left of McHale above). It requires significant and constant suspension of disbelief to accept that these two would continue to enjoy the mildly flirtatious connection they share, especially since he’s at heart a barely likeable (if quite funny) jerk and she seems like a pretty traditional damaged, brittle (hence the name! oh, irony), closed-up single lady.

For that matter, all of the relationships and connections that provide the show’s central premise are pretty forced. It’s about a community college, or more specifically, a group of seven students at a community college who are brought together in the show’s first episode to form a Spanish study group that immediately studies absolutely no Spanish, instead descending into a mix between group therapy and random bonding.

Why would these people spend any time together past the first ten minutes of the first episode? The only reasonable answer is, “Because it’s a TV show,” and I think ultimately that’s going to have to suffice. The premise and plotting is such pure situation comedy that it’s jarring up against the night’s other series, which are also sitcoms but are able to disguise their plotting mechanics and any strained character connections by a more reasonable shared environment, the workplace.

(more…)

September 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm 1 comment


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