The Pacific on HBO
At the risk of getting fragged, let me state up front that I thought Band of Brothers was no masterpiece. By the time you sorted out the characters and cared for them, they were either dead or the series was nearly over. I’ve seen much better personal stories on episodes of the 1963-66 series, Combat, which also showcased a lone platoon or band of brothers single-handedly winning World War II. Band of Brothers looked and sounded great, though, and was suitably realistic (guns jammed and ran out of ammo), and gruesome (soldiers got mutilated). The Pacific narrows the focus to the journeys of three individual soldiers fighting the Japanese, so it’s easier to know the characters, but they’re not together and the narrative jumps back and forth between them. And it’s also gruesome, with depictions of naked soldiers going crazy in the jungles and eating their pistols, Japanese getting mowed down by machine-guns or flame-throwers, parasitic-caused bed-wetting, dysentery and foot rot. I wonder what men like my uncle, who fought as a Marine in the Pacific, would think of this show; which dwells less on the mission, and more on the misery, confusion, guilt and PTSD. Would they really want to visit that side of the conflict again? There’s a reason why all the movies done in the immediate wake of the Big War starred ‘noble’ icons like John Wayne and glossed over the horror. Now, revisionist productions make subsequent generations wallow in it, not so much because we need it to understand the sacrifice our fathers and grandfathers made, but more, I suspect, because we’ve come to expect it after being so desensitized to gore or violence on screen and in video games. The rallying cry of war depicted on film used to be “No guts, no glory.” Now, it’s “All guts, all gory.”
Nurse Jackie on Showtime
Normally, I avoid medical shows like the plague (you just never know what you’re going to catch watching one), but this show is stacked with great characters played by some terrific NYC actors. Watching Edie Falco stay calm in the middle of the ER-trauma-ward storm in her professional life, and self-destruct as a pill-popping, sack-hopping disaster in her personal life somehow provides a soothing medicinal balm for any viewer who thinks THEY’VE got problems.
Justified on FX
Elmore Leonard always understood how low life criminals making terrible decisions, botching robberies, kidnapping the wrong people, and turning on each other whenever there’s a dollar to grub like caged and starving pit bulls … makes fun entertainment. And cable television finally caught up with being able to feature most of this shit without turning the camera away during the good parts. Who doesn’t want to see a skinhead neo-Nazi redneck have his face shoved into a steering wheel obliterating his nose? (Especially if it were Jesse James!) Timothy Olyphant doesn’t exactly rock the acting Richter scale (he goes from a steel-eyed half grimace to a steel-eyed half smirk), but it’s about the closest we’re going to get to having Clint Eastwood cloned or recycled. And, if fast draw gunfights or slow drawl dialogue zingers are your thing, minus the horses, cattle and BULL, this modern day Western will … make your day.
Two hit men (one veteran, one rookie) watch a crime scene from their car,staking out their intended target – Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens:
VETERAN HIT MAN: He’s the one in the hat.
ROOKIE HIT MAN: The tall one?
VETERAN HIT MAN (after a blank look and a pause): The one in the hat.
(This just may be my new favorite show)
Fringe on Fox
God I miss The X-Files (at least the first five seasons). But until the blu-ray season sets come out and I watch them all over again, this show will have to do. And it has dramatically improved in its second season and is worth watching for John Noble’s wacky Walter alone.
Damages on FX
It’s uncertain we’ll get a fourth season at this point, but it’s definitely been worth the ride. This third season has basically been the story of tracking down the money scammed off investors in a Ponzi scheme by a Bernie Madoff-style character who kills himself before going to prison. But cast Lily Tomlin against type as the button-lipped society wife, Martin Short as the creepy and loyal lawyer, and Campbell Scott as the ruthless son, and you’re already cooking a bitches’ and bastards’ brew of tasty and unexpected drama. Glen Close plays Patty Hewes, the powerful but ethically dubious lawyer going around and below the law to recover the money for her plaintiffs. My dad was a county attorney who came from the Atticus Finch breed of idealistic and ethical upholders of the law, and would cringe at the greedy sleazebags who often demean his chosen profession, but he also enjoyed a gripping yarn, and this one grabs you in the same place Patty Hewes is grabbing the poor schmucks who defy her.
Parenthood on NBC
Based on the beloved Ron Howard movie of the same name, but having nothing to do with that film, those characters, or real life, this show tries to walk the line between either being poignant or cute, and comes off just cute. Tough, no nonsense Maura Tierney (Rescue Me last season) was originally cast to play the Lauren Graham role, and I can’t help imagining how that might have changed the whole tone of the show, but with Graham it tilts too much from believable drama to sit-com shtick. Also, listen carefully to Monica Potter as Kristina Braverman and imagine her with brown hair and a trademark giggle and you have the perfect Julia Roberts clone. It’s just something to do while passing the time enjoying an uncomplicated show that doesn’t require any heavy thinking.
LOST on ABC
Leave all the heavy thinking to LOST. Doc Jensen, Entertainment Weekly’s online recap columnist, regularly spends up to 12 pages interpreting each episode. That’s 11 pages of arcane references to existentialism, philosophers Locke or Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, Egyptian mythology, quantum physics, magnetic thermodynamics, wormholes, Chaos Theory and the Old Testament. And one page devoted to what actually happened in the episode. Here’s a typical sentence from one of his recaps: “Seen in the abstract, with the castaways representing a singular entity, the scene was a metaphor for existential consciousness: fragmented, argumentative, double-minded, self-referencing but non-reflective, inert to the point of paralysis, compelled to action only by crisis.”
I love a program that can stimulate more than 1,000 posts every week (with sub-posts) on one site debating the meaning of every single moment, reference or character. But I can’t help but suspect the show itself was all concocted by writers huddled around a hookah smoking awesome Moroccan hash, giggling incessantly, and throwing out stream-of-consciousness ideas in random moments of eureka, then starting to freak out realizing they had to somehow cobble it all together before the buzz wore off.
Breaking Bad on AMC
This show had me long before the decapitated head of the Mexican drug henchman exploded on the back of a huge walking tortoise taking out several Border patrol officers. Or before the voiceless, near-quadriplegic uncle of another drug lord began incessantly pushing a hotel bell to warn his nephew he was about to be poisoned by our meth-cooking series ‘hero’ Walter White. Or when the stolen ATM machine fell over and crushed the skull of the same lowlife who hijacked it. In between these insanely dark, tense and morbidly funny moments lays the tale of a family man/high school teacher and the American Dream going horribly sour.
– A. Wayne Carter