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In Defence of AMC’s The Killing

I’m here to defend The Killing and the way it ended.

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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.

– SPOILERS AHEAD –

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.

– END OF SPOILERS –

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.

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Netflix’s Street Food is a disjointed but sincere ode

Netflix’s Street Food is a disjointed, but sincere ode

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One of my fondest memories of growing up in Jakarta are the times I spent parked on the side of the road, perched on the front seat of my car, door ajar, with a bowl of hot, freshly cooked chicken noodles (mie ayam) on my lap. It wasn’t just the incredibly immersive palette of flavors a good bowl of mie ayam had, but it was that I could easily pull up on the side of the road next to a street food vendor and have one of the best, most memorable meals one can have.

Street food, of course, is not unique to any one country. It is an idea that Netflix’s Street Food series aims to bring to light. Produced by David Gelb and Brian McGinn (the same producers as Netflix’s Chef’s Table), Street Food shares the idea that across the globe the myriad of wonderful foods, personalities, and historical culture can be found around the corner, in the unlikeliest of places, made by the unlikeliest of people. This is the series’ strength. Street Food Vol 1. spends its nine episodes across Asia, from Singapore to Yogyakarta, from Osaka to Delhi, exploring the rich foods you find on their streets. But the strongest connection you’ll find is with that of the people profiled in the episodes. Sure, the food is irresistible, but it is the very human stories this series profile that make it worthwhile.

We meet Grace in Chiayi, Taiwan, who had dreams of escaping small city life, only to find herself back home running her family’s street food restaurant that specializes in fish head soup. There’s is an inescapable sadness as Grace tells of her lost opportunity in the big city of Taipei, but we are overcome when she’s found happiness at home, expanding, modernizing, and running the business she’s known since she was a child. We meet Truoc in Ho Chi Minh City, who after a family tragedy, found it overwhelmingly difficult to find passion in her work. But a passion re-found when her hard work and perseverance enabled her son to attend university. In Seoul, there is Yoonsun Cho, whose incredible 11-year work as a street food seller at the market got her family out of bad debt, seeing her son attend culinary school, and seeing him take up a job at an upscale hotel. This is alongside stories like the purported-last ‘3 day 3 night goat stew’ chef on the planet (seeing how toxic and life-threatening this process is, it’s not hard to understand why). These are the stories that make this series interesting, and it takes cues from what we loved about Anthony Bourdain’s take on global food. He was not there just for the food, but he was there to understand, listen to, and discover the people, their histories and their cultures.

The cinematic Netflix production helps with the series’ presentation, but where it struggles is to find cohesion within the episodes. You get narrators for each episode, individuals who are locals or familiar with the food and culture, but as you hear the stories of the vendors, the production employs cheesy voice-overs that sound robotic. I would rather have let the vendors speak, in their natural tongues with subtitles instead (which strangely, they do at times). Another gripe is their instagramesque presentation of their signature dishes that give the show a less than genuine feel. It’s a shame because it takes away from the narrative of the vendors and takes viewers away from the on-the-street feel of the rest of the episodes.

It is, however, the vendors that ultimately make this series worth the venture. We often forget that behind the foods of the worlds, there are the people who make them, whose stories are just as rich and important as the foods they make.

I miss mie ayam, I miss sitting on the side of the road next to the gerobak (street food cart) while I stuff my face with the best tasting noodles you’ll find on the planet. Some days it is all I long for. But the next time I do find myself eating mie ayam on the side of the road, I’ll take a moment to appreciate the food, and the vendor whose life is as story-filled as the food they are making.

Street Food is streaming now on Netflix.

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Roswell: New Mexico was better than it had any business being

Roswell: New Mexico has done what most reboots haven’t.

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In an era where audiences are over-saturated by television remakes, it is a hard task to find one that is worth more than a dose of fleeting nostalgia. Some shows found solid ground to stand out (Hawaii Five-0 is entering its 9th(!) season?), some have rightfully disappeared into the dustbin of canceled TV shows (24: Legacy, Charlie’s AngelsHeroes: Reborn), while others have somehow continued to plod along as caricatures of their once glorious selves (how is that terrible MacGyver remake still on?).

Roswell: New Mexico, The CW remake of the 1999 series Roswell (which originally aired on The CW’s precursor channel The WB) was, like any and all remakes, met with an initial level of skepticism. Any show that manages to build an almost cult-like following will be shadowed by its cult, and anything that threatens its place will inevitably be met with derision (see the kind words left on our Nikita remake piece from a few years ago). I was one of those skeptics, as a fan of the original Roswell; a remake of a show that was good, but not great, was just plain unnecessary (although to be honest, that can be said about all these remakes).

The new show’s first season has just concluded and through the 13-episode run, surprisingly there was plenty to be impressed with. But let’s get some of the fundamentals out of the way- Roswell: New Mexico doesn’t stray too far away from the original text, both the Roswell High book series and the 1999 series. The characters involved are essentially the same- Max, Liz, Michael, Isabel- but the settings and relationships have in a way, been given a decade-long time jump. Where the book and the original series played out in the hallways of high school drama and politics, Roswell: New Mexico shows us the characters ten years later, navigating the drama and politics of dusty roads and small towns.

With that comes the added weight of current day politics, and Roswell: New Mexico does a good job balancing the political discourse of building walls, illegal aliens (the easiest of double meanings), and cultural backlash in the shadow of nationalist politics. The Liz in New Mexico is also more accurate of the original text: no longer is she Liz Parker but, as in the books, Liz Ortecho. The Ortecho family are crucial to the story of the new series, not only driving the story but setting the tone of the conflicts between the characters as well. Thankfully the Ortecho family are no caricatures of a Mexican-American family but come across as genuine and believable- which is a hard thing to do at times on the small (or big) screen. It’s small things too- language, and the use of it, being prominent. It goes a long way. With television representation becoming more diverse, Roswell: New Mexico finds itself in the funny place where their original text is finally finding its rightful place in an adaptation instead of being whitewashed for audiences.

Much like the 1999 adaptation there are enough twist and turns to keep the story progressing. It’s gripping enough for network television, but avoids being overly convoluted, with much of the drama mostly resolved by season’s end. The absurdity of aliens amongst us is done a little less kitschy, but can still come across as… aliens living in a small town. A lot happens in 13-episodes, seemingly compacting multiple story arcs presented in 1999, but the season closes out on a surprising note and one that should draw viewers into a second.

But what makes Roswell: New Mexico better than it had any business being?

The series is airing in a television climate where appeasing the current social agenda for diversity often becomes an exhausting exercise (see Charmed reboot). Often it doesn’t feel genuine, or for the reasons we should push diversity in entertainment. This comes across in the content, whether intentionally or not. A lot of this stems from the idea that diversity should be pushed through originality and fresh stories (Fresh Off the Boat, Blackish) instead of rewriting what was already written. Roswell is lucky then, that the original text was subverted to fit television, and now the series has the opportunity to be a little more faithful. It isn’t perfect- small town Caucasian characters portrayed as over-the-top bigots and racists is no better than minorities portrayed in all the ways they have been before. But I suppose the scales will have to find a balance somewhere down the road. What you have with Roswell: New Mexico is a good series that will not get the kind of press one of those glossy but flimsy shows receives (why do we care so much about Riverdale? How come no one else sees how bad Shonda Rhimes shows are?), but goes by its agenda quietly.

On a slightly more superficial note, the show’s nostalgia-tinted use of music- both in diegetic and non-diegetic terms- is a warm and fuzzy welcome to those who spent their formative music years hooked on 90s radio. Roswell: New Mexico does a great job of being fans of 90s music while using it as MacGuffins to progress its plot. Someone on that writing staff was a starry-eyed teen who lived it, and now they get to soundtrack a show to a mixtape someone made them in 1998. Third Eye Blind’s “God of Wine” as a significant plot point? Sure, why not? Plus, it’s a nice to hear Counting Crows instead of Post Malone. The show’s tribute to the 1999 show’s theme song is a small but fitting ode. It’s the small things that New Mexico get right.

For now, Roswell: New Mexico has done what most reboots haven’t, and that’s generate interest past its initial run.

Maybe they got some of the big things right too.

Roswell: New Mexico airs on The CW in the United States and on Fox 8 in Australia.

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