Disappointment at a television series’ mismanagement is nothing new, this year I’ve invested my time to several that in a palpable existence would have lasted longer than their actual life spans. I was never a fan of any Stargate series until Universe and was bitterly disappointed that for once, a bunch of people jumping through giant stone hoops was both thrilling and engaging- only for it to get axed after it really got going (2 seasons worth). Then there was FOX’s ham fisted treatment of Shawn Ryan’s The Chicago Code (cancelled after 13 episodes), while restrained due to it being on FOX instead of FX, was easily the best procedural police drama on TV this year.
So now we come to AMC’s The Killing, whose season finale (or as we all thought, the series finale) came to its rather unfruitful conclusion this past Sunday. One of its most vocal critics, ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons, has written a lengthy piece about its “hackery”, its broken promises and unserved dinners. He’s not wrong; I too was rather dumbfounded by the way it unraveled. After so much promise and poise through the season, we neared a much-needed resolve to the murder of Rosie Larsen, but all we got was trickery and overplayed season-ending cliff hangers (the creators of Dallas will forever be blamed) that bordered on justifiably throwing your remote through the television.
Bordered on, but not quite. As frustrating as it was, I’m here to defend The Killing and the way it ended, not so much the contents of the ending itself, but that the potential for the show and all the good things AMC did with it, warrants a second chance.
For those uninitiated, The Killing is AMC’s adaptation of the Danish series Forbrydelsen, a crime drama that took an entire season (20 episodes) to solve its one case. Much of the plot is kept the same; a young girl is murdered to the backdrop of a hotly contested Mayoral race as audiences get a harrowing look at the emotional and physical turmoil the events cause to the family of the victim, the suspects, and the law enforcement officers meant to solve the case.
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It is a slow moving drama, punctuated by shady characters, ambiguous morals, and some heartbreaking pain- like a good BBC slog through the rainy streets and woodlands of Seattle. We are peppered all through the season with suspects- ranging from obvious to more obscure. I had money on candidate Darren Richmond, his sniveling campaign adviser (both of them), the teacher Bennet Ahmed, a potential terrorist that Ahmed was involved with, Belko and even detective (Sarah) Linden’s fiance who spent all his time trying to get her to move down the coast. All were potential killers- at least that’s the way the plot unfolded- often giving you hints that this particular character had an uncovered layer that led you to believe he or she was capable of such a crime.
By the penultimate episode, we are dropped the bombshell that the killer is evidently future Seattle mayor Darren Richmond. And we expected the final episode to see him finally put to rest as this long winding road finally came to a halt. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As Simmons points out in this piece, the series was recently picked up for a second season, and with this in mind, the brain trust at AMC must have decided to hell with the viewers, let’s stretch this thing out beyond what we initially planned for reasons that most definitely have nothing to do with the artistic integrity of the original series. So came the plot twists and new facts conveniently seeing the light of day as time expires derailing the show’s last hour. It’s like if a band were to re-record Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and leave off “Jungleland”, or if they remade it as a, God forbid, dance/electronic number. They’ve done everything well up to this point, how could they possibly conduct the conclusion with the panache of a DJ horrendously remixing a really great song? Everything had been done the way terrific European television would for the majority of the series, but the show’s American producers decided to end it the way a trust fund kid would torpedo his/her father’s Fortune 500 Company. Sometimes you just have to end your journey the same way you began it. The Killing did not, and they’re getting their just criticism for it.
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However, to write off the show and what it did up to the last episode would be unfair (mostly to people like myself who refuse to end it on a note like this) because of all the good they did do. So what’s left? A chance for television redemption. What if AMC took a cue from short run English dramas like Luther and structured the proposed second season as no more than 4-6 episodes? What if they wrap it up and give audiences the ending they hoped for within this short run, a riveting, gritty but concise ending? It’ll prove that AMC still care about the integrity of quality television and aren’t just another television studio playing the ratings game. I think it worked for The Walking Dead, why wouldn’t it work for The Killing Redux? Let’s not drag this case out longer than a few more episodes. Please.
So don’t write off The Killing just yet, and don’t write off AMC. The show is still leaps and bounds better than what any CSI or Criminal Minds can offer. And after watching the first episode of Game Of Thrones, I can stay that at least The Killing is not so uncomfortably ostentatious (medieval breasts are immediately nullified by gratuitous incest). AMC and the show runners made a mistake, but one they can fix if they get what happens next right.
Why Fleabag was the most important show of 2019
Fleabag will be that show that influences other shows and movies for decades to come
How is it that even among the award show sweeps, iconic jumpsuit copycats, and seemingly universal acclaim, Fleabag still seems underrated? Maybe it’s because, on paper, little about Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s play-turned-Amazon-series should have worked all that well for mass acclaim — particularly for American audiences. Half of the characters in the show are nameless. There is constant breaking of the fourth wall. And, perhaps most surprising to its success in the U.S., the show comprised only two seasons of just six half-hour episodes apiece — released an agonizing three years apart. (We typically like our TV shows abundant and delivered fast, the cinematic equivalent of a cheap dinner at a strip mall buffet.)
But paper can’t capture the brilliance of Waller-Bridge’s tale of a woman drowning her guilt and trauma in sarcasm and casual sex (and occasionally guinea pigs). Fleabag is packed with raw humanity, top-notch writing, and impeccable comedic timing.
The ingenious writing and acting of Fleabag is matched only by the show’s ensemble cast. Brett Gelman is delightfully disgusting as swarthy, pitiful brother-in-law Martin. As Fleabag’s season two love interest, the Hot Priest, Andrew Scott exudes turmoil so heavy you can feel it through the screen, as he struggles to navigate sexual desire with spirituality. Sian Clifford beautifully embodies Fleabag’s high-powered sister Claire, whose Type-A rigidity is as palpable as her deep unhappiness.
And who can forget the incomparable Olivia Colman? She is hysterical as Godmother, a self-important artist whose fixation on alienating Fleabag is only as cringeworthy as her pride on her wedding day in showing off the diverse identities of her “friends.” (“This is my verrrry interesting friend Daniel, who’s deaf. I picked him up at a student gallery opening. Utterly fascinating. Can’t hear a thing.”)
But it so much more than outstanding casting and indulgent black humor that makes Fleabag the most important show of 2019.
Fleabag will be that show that influences other shows and movies for decades to come. Fleabag has proven that you can teach an old cinematic device a brand-new trick. The show has taught us that these techniques aren’t doomed to become a shtick or a crutch. And it has taught us how compelling it can be when stories of women’s sexuality and humanity are explored authentically (see: why fewer men should be writing these stories).
But more than anything, Fleabag has raised the bar.
We have much to thank Phoebe Waller-Bridge for — Fleabag is as deliriously funny as it is heartwrenching. But we should also thank her because, in the vein of Twin Peaks, her show will blaze trails for other artists. Just like David Lynch’s groundbreaking soap-opera-tinged supernatural series paved the way for shows like Northern Exposure and True Detective, screenwriters in the coming years will owe an equal creative debt to Fleabag.
So we may clamor and beg for seasons three and four — which we will never and should never get — but we should appreciate Fleabag for exactly what it is: near-perfect television and inspiration for the amazing shows that we haven’t even seen yet.
Fleabag airs in the UK on the BBC and internationally on Amazon Prime.
Homelander is humanity’s most accurate superhero
Amazon’s hard-hitting, irreverent take on superheroes is a painfully accurate takedown of humanity
If you haven’t yet seen Amazon Studios’ hard-hitting, irreverent take on superheroes, proceed at your own risk. But if you haven’t seen The Boys yet, why not? It’s not-so-quietly the best television show of 2019 and its painfully accurate depiction of what superheroes would really be like in our world is gloriously funny and poignant. You best get on it.
With that said, The Boys IS 2019’s best television show, and while it may not be the most easily digestible show (if you prefer your superhero television to be Supergirl type corny, you’re probably in for a bit of a shock), those who venture through its visceral 8-episode first season will no doubt be left in awe. Based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name, The Boys tells the story of a group of nogoodniks led by Karl Urban’s brute Billy Butcher, who takes the seemingly hapless Hughie (played by Jack Quaid) on a vigilante mission to avenge the death of his girlfriend. Along the way “The Boys” set out to expose the fake news facade of the superheroes in the series’ world. These so-called heroes, backed by mega-corporation Vought International, are Earth’s premier team of superheroes. On the surface, they act like the Marvel Avengers / DC Justice League team, but in reality, are just a colossal mess of frail egos and giant assholes whose appearances are kept up to keep the money-making wheels spinning.
The story unfolds in glorious violence, capped by slow-mo gory deaths, shattered limbs, and enough sex and psychotherapy to make old “Skinemax” television blush. But what’s most telling about the series is the accurate characterisation of what it means to be a hero in the real world. “The Seven” (Vought’s Avengers) are led by the very Captain America/Superman-esque Homelander; a stoic, blond, barrel-chested hero for America that waves and kisses babies on camera, but away from it, is a fragile, colossal asshole egomaniac with severe Freudian issues. The latter become one of the focal points of the series’ narrative arc and are a small but telling dimension of the layers you find within this show. He’s surrounded by likeminded assholes; sexual deviant The Deep (if one of the characters from Gossip Girl ended up becoming Aquaman), sexual deviant Translucent (if Invisible Man was a chronic sex-pest) and murdering drug-addict A-Train (if The Flash was… well, a murdering drug addict). The only one who presents with any form of likeability are Queen Maeve and newcomer Starlight. The latter, integral to the story, is a good girl Christian superhero who discovers like most of us, The Seven aren’t who they make out to be.
Over the eight episodes of the first season, we come to the sad and painful realization that if superheroes were to exist in our reality, that this would be it. Intentionally or not, this commentary is one of the most compelling parts of this series. It’s beautifully cynical, but at the same, cuts right to the heart of the truth of our society. The Marvel Universe has spoiled us with dreams of heroic saviors, but in reality, we would get and deserve much less.
Superheroes in the Marvel and DC Universes are often too good to be true; cavorting around like false prophets. In times when humanity turns against them (Batman vs. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Far From Home), they react with some level of empathy for the reactions of the general public. Superman exiles himself in Batman vs Superman while The Avengers attempt to self-police in Civil War; all are actions of self-sacrificing their worth for the greater good. Their hope is that public opinion will turn once people realize the truth. Homelander is nothing like that, and often in The Boys, his good public persona will reveal his true self the moment he faces situations that harm his likeness, value, and/or monetary worth. It’s how most people would react no matter how much they tell you they wouldn’t. In all of Homelander’s inhuman superpowers, his most telling characteristic are his most human ones; selfish, egotistical, greedy, self-absorbed. They are not positive qualities, but they are very real.
You may be thinking that this is an overly cynical view on humanity, but the old adage of the truth hurting is ever present through the series. The Boys‘ socio-political commentary isn’t even about specific politics or people- even though you can equate it to them. It’s broader, more sweeping in its assessment that no matter your political views, no matter your race or creed, you are nowhere near as heroic or “good” as you think you are. “The Boys” themselves, of course, are a band of anti-hero criminals and outcasts that help confirm that even the people “doing good” aren’t all that good themselves. As the series points out, we are all just different sides of the same coin.
It’s all just a helpful reminder that in a world filled with liars, charlatans, hacks, and grifters, there are no real heroes and those looking to become one just end up getting burned. The Boys is a compelling look into the mirror of society; refreshing, invigorating, and painfully true. It is the truth we are all afraid to face wrapped in relatable costumes and transient power. I suppose we could keep telling ourselves that we’re nothing like the people and “heroes” in The Boys, but then we’d just be lying to ourselves. It’s in part, what makes Homelander humanity’s most accurate superhero. If that’s not enough for you, then watch it for Karl Urban calling everyone a “c*nt” for eight episodes.
The Boys is streaming now on Amazon Prime.